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yes, they'll be fine. they are, as you're probably aware, the very same packages, but without support or pretty pictures, at the binary level they really should just drop right in there. It can be a slippery slope here, in that if you do install yum, and do updates through it, you'll find that one day it will just become centos itself. (despite most underlying packages being the original rhel ones still) this is when the centos-release package gets installed, replacing the redhat-release one, with associated graphics and such. the system is still going to work as you expected of course...
Looking through the yum setup it's a bit complicated for our needs/skill
I'd rather (at the moment) just update the files that need to be upgraded in order to install HP SIM, so that's rpm-build and rpm-devel - should I be able to get those rpms from the mirrors - or will I need to download the isos?
And am I better getting the kernel source from kernel.org? We're running 2.6.9-42 I think
yeah those should be available without much problem. you would want to take a LOT of care to make sure you have the exact same version. if you update something like RPM itself, you'll very often spiral off into a vast range of dependencies. personally i'd just be googling for the rpm sub version (which is consistent across to centos)
yes, but you should also be fine to just install the centos-release for that version, and the matching centos yum repos data (not sure what the package name actually is there.. *might* be the release file again actually) and do a "yum update" and off it'll go.