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Here's what worked for me in the end - (your mileage may vary).
-Followed directions: simply extract to location and add location to the head of Path - I'm specifically referring to Path in the System env var space, I did not touch user env var space at any point.
I have NO other env var in System space, e.g., nls_language, oracle_home or other, just Path.
I have a string value entry in the registry key:
my computer\hkey_local_machine\software\oracle for tns_admin. It points to tnsnames.ora file that I know is valid and works with other Oracle clients on other machines 8i, 9i.
I had to remove string value: nls_language at the key above. It was set to NA. When I removed it everything started to work.
I can now run:
Oracle Forms and Reports 6i
sqlplus (the new one that is in the extract location)
I am relying on the Instant Client only, not trying to use two different clients.
I went so far as to hack the Registry after exporting the individual keys and deleted:
the entry for an 8i client and renamed the 8i client folder from the root of said folder. Everything continues to operate.
Remember if you mess with the registry - back it up, export keys, did I mention: back it up.