Thanks all; ati proprietary drivers are a pain in the A$$. I found many options online with google, and got things to "Work" - but the 2d performance sucked. so even though i got eye candy in 3d, i got glacieral response on most common tasks.
Whats worse is i got my wife using windows in a VM - so she blames linux for any/all problems! (she has no idea what we have here
anyway, i went back to using the vesa drivers. they work good for 2d. In the future I'll get an NVidia card !