Hanging Early In Any Session


first, i apologize if the help i need is already available on the public forums. i did several searches and spent about ten minutes looking for a problem similar to mine, but did not find one (though several appeared so from the subject lines, they were much different upon close inspection).

i am using OS 10.3.8 (heard too many bad things about 10.3.9 to consider updating to it, can't afford tiger), and mail 1.3.9. my computer is a mac mini with the 1.25 GHz processor and 1/2 GB of RAM.

while i do have a few customization-type pieces of software (e.g., transparent dock), i have installed nothing since long before my problem began. i have made no changes to my system since the last time i applied a software update from apple (as of 6/7/05, i have applied all current updates except for OS 10.3.9, the 3/23 ipod update (don't have an ipod), and isight 1.0.3 (don't have an isight either)). i repaired permissions after the last time i installed anything.

as the final bit of background, there are three user accounts on my mac. there is a standard account which is never used, a standard account for my mother (which is the account into which the mac autologs upon startup), and my administrator account. mail is set to autolaunch on my mother's account, but not on mine.

my problem began suddenly about a week ago, and seems to be getting slowly worse. everything was fine prior to a week ago. beginning at that time, if launching mail was the first thing i did after logging into my account, it would not launch. force-quitting and then trying again would not work until either i had waited several minutes or launched another app (specifically safari, but i may have done this with other apps as well, i don't remember).

beginning yesterday, when logging into my mother's account (including the autologon on startup), mail would, in a similar fashion, fail to launch. she uses mail for three e-mail accounts, and i for two.

technical level: i switched to Macintosh in march, and as yet do not know much about it beyond what is necessary for everyday use. my technical level on my previous platform was that i knew just barely enough that i could usually get myself out of whatever trouble i got into. i do not know anything about programming. as for hardware, i am relatively familiar with the insides of computers, but have never opened up a mac, and am loathe to open a mini.

sorry the message is so long, but i figure best to give as much relevant information as possible.