Thanks for the suggestions and offers of help - in the end I found a place down the Old Kent Rd - Modern Computers (strange name: as opposed to Ancient Computers?). ANyway they were very helpful, diagnosed a virus and re-built the wretched thing. A bit expensive, but very quick and efficient.
Seb, are you sure it was a virus. Maybe they just rebuilt the machine - an easy way of making a fast buck, but not very helpful to you, especially as you will have lost all sorts of stuff (of course most of your important things will have been backed up)
Did they tell you how you got the virus, and how to avoid it happening again?
well, they were a bit vague about the nature of the virus - but certainly the hard disk was corrupted and Windows simply wouldn't boot up. Nor could they dignose the fault in MS-DOS. I agree, re-building the machine is a bit drastic, but it made me update various things (like IE 6). I still haven't installed a new virus checker though (I used to have McAfee) - not sure which one to go for?
Thing is unless you know a bit about computers/virus' etc how can you tell if it's a fair price, don't think it's fair to jump to the conclusion that someone's been ripped off though, you could always try the 'Whicj' website - I'm sure they have links to people who fix computers
For virus checking I would recommend either Norton get it with their complete norton utilities for about 50 quid and you'll get a load of other bits that will do disk checks etc on your pc and keep it running smoothly. the other one we use is my-etrust it's good because you get updates to the virus files everytime you connect to the internet - always connect to the web before checking your email though
The big trouble with virus checkers is that they go out of date very quickly, and you need to upgrade them in some way. I have an evaluation copy of Sophos which does appear good. You then upgrade it with new virus definitions which you get from their web site. But then you need to get a new version of the product - every few months.
Running the product picked up a virus in the temporary internet file directory system, in an html file. It does not seem to have done any harm. However I am careful, and do not want to have to rebuild my machine.
I read somewhere that 1 in 5 machines are infected. That seems terribly high.
Get broadband, and get Norton and update it weekly. Get some good firewall software too (ZoneAlarm).
Also, worth buying (or downloading off KaZaa or Grokster) something like "Norton Ghost" - burn a CD copy of your working PC onto a bootable CD-ROM - then - if something like this happens again, just reformat your HDD and put the bootable CD-ROM in, and straight away your back at your last good configuration.
Whats broadband got to do with it? This is just the comms medium, surely? I agree that you need to update your viral protection, and if you are on the internet as a server you need firewall protection. But then go for Linux as the OpSys.