Short of going to RH10 and using the new HTML5 Multiscreen SSLs, there is a hack you could try that changes the width of the left pane. Now I just need to remember what post it was...hmm... could be this one -
or this one from Rick -
Your first link is an applicable post. As you hinted, it would involve changing some files behind the scenes which is not ideal.
The second post link is about hiding the dividing line between the TofC and topic areas, which doesn't apply to my case.
Good to hear - I squirrel little bits of knowledge away & then can't find it when required ;>)