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If you feel confident doing so, look under Control Panel > System > Advanced > Startup and Recovery > Settings and uncheck Automatically restart.
This will probably result in the "Blue Screen of Death". Hopefully, the screen will have some text on it identifying an individual .sys file. If so, and the crash screen is reasonably consistent, you can use that information (use Google) to find out which piece of hardware is causing the problem; graphics and sound drivers are common culprits.
If the machine's not under warranty, remove the hardware from the computer if you can. Otherwise, try uninstalling and/or reinstalling the drivers. You can usually download updated drivers from the manufacturer's website.
Note that there are many other possible causes of instability -- faulty memory or overheating might cause random crashes in certain applications, too. Look inside the case for stopped fans or loose boards. Memory issues can be diagnosed using MemTestx86.
If that all sounded like gibberish, I'd suggest two steps:
Firstly, try backing up all your data onto CD and reinstalling Windows... actually easier than it sounds. You'll need the Windows XP Home installation CD for this.
If that doesn't work, you've really not much choice than to take it to a computer shop to be repaired.
It sounds like the common problem is AOL. I that case uninstall the AOL software and reinstall it. If that doesn't work, THEN proceed to some of the other suggestions.
It's amazing how often an uninstall/reinstall of a program will fix an issue.
which virus protection I should get. Norton, or Macafee. I don't really like Mcaffe very much. Please let me know.
Try AVG. It's free or you can buy it. There are others too such as Nod32 but I've not tried it.