I have dealt with support people in many fields, from modem makers to software designers, and this is honestly the first time I have run into such a blatantly rote type of response. Every support person who has answered m y emails - and I've sent several, and they've been answered by different persons - does exactly the same thing. I so unimpressed.
The latest solution offered to me is that I reinstall Windows XP, complete reinstall. Back up settings and files, change the boot sequence, reinstall everything.
This computer is less than two months old. It hasn't had a chance to get THAT buggy. My sense is that this is the fix-all solution. Reinstall reinstall. Don't take time to work out the particular problem and fix that, no.
What is particularly weird about this is that if one of my software programs did screw up the registry, XP Pro is supposed to keep that screwup localized so it doesn't affect other programs (which was a huge problem with other versions of Windows). If that's the case...why am I having troubles with other programs? And why should I need to reinstall? What good is Restore if it doesn't work in this kind of case?
Rather than take this rather drastic and tedious route, at least right now, while I still have other hope, I am going to get Norton and install that - assuming it will install...and see what it finds. For the moment all is not lost. I have not lost any data and my email works.