... and, according to the diagnostics I've had carried out here over the past couple of days (when I was therefore PC-less), it is not just any old software which is at fault! The engineer tells me that my hardware is perfectly OK, though, so that's good of course. Anyway the software which is causing the problem is none other than the AOL software, the latest version of which is called 'AOL VR'. The 'VR' stands for Vista Ready - it is appears that it is nothing of the kind!
I have been using 'AOL VR' ever since I purchased this lovely Vista-equipped machine and, as regular readers will know, have experienced problems with it (the PC, that is) regularly almost since I got it in May last year. I had, I think perfectly understandably, thought that the magic 'VR' for this version of the AOL software meant that it was actually compatible with Vista; foolish, trusting person that I am!
I can still access my email which, because I have used AOL as my ISP for many years (8 or 9 I think) is on an AOL account, via web-mail but it is much less convenient than it was whilst using the AOL spoftware, because that integrates internet access and email in one platform - it always worked pretty well in XP.
However, because I must now access the web (and my AOL email) using another web browser (IE or Firefox) there seems little practical advantage in retaining AOL as my broadband ISP in the UK; it is by no means the least expensive service I am aware of for comparable broadband speeds, but I had left it with AOL simply because it was the easiest option as it was convenient to retain my AOL email address. Now I think when I return home to Scotland in May I shall have to switch my broadband to another supplier, which I understand is sometimes a time-consuming and not particularly easy operation. In fact I already have another web email address (@yahoo.co.uk) but have never used it apart from testing it occasionally. I think when I do switch my broadband supplier I will not use whatever email address I am given by the new people and instead start to use my yahoo account, as that is likely to be less-dependent on whatever ISP I happen to go with.
I am pleased I seem to have, finally, got to the root of the problem with this Vista-PC; the software engineer (an ex-Microsoft software developer who helped develop XP before he left the company to come and live in Spain, and who speaks quite highly of Vista, too, whilst accepting it does have compatibility issues with some software) told me they always avoided using AOL because it was so flaky and never recommended people to use it either. If anyone in the UK (north Scotland in particular) has any recommendations for suitable alternative ISP broadband providers in that region of the UK, I'll be glad to have them to help me make my choice (a few of my friends there who have gone with some of the cheaper providers have had no end of problems with them so I would prefer to pay a decent price for a decent quality of service).
PS/ The alternative, of course, is to stick with my instincts and be 'shot of' Microsoft once and for all and get myself an Appple MAC-equipped machine when I get home, stick with AOL, and rid myself of the prima donna Vista once and for all! I have really grown weary of having to accommodate myself to the whims of Microsoft with its continuing software 'improvements' which always seem to result in increasing complications in making things work and if you don't comply with their increasingly stringent 3rd-party software requirements you are right royally .... well things just don't work. Now I must get back to my dinner and the salad to follow the excellent steak I have just eaten and of ocurse the excellent Douro wine I am sampling this evening.