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can't "lock screen" in Gnome Desktop - Redhat 9

This is odd, I'll log into my RH 9.0 desktop, fire up
some apps, (i.e., Opera, VmWare with XP inside,
gAIM/yahoo, some terminals, etc...)

At 1st after a fresh login, I can select lock screen &
it will lock.
Then I don't know, for some reason, later on,
unpredictably, as I use the system more, maybe open
more apps, close some, etc...
I go to lock the screen again & nothing. It will not
lock.  It just stays there.
I try closing all my apps thinking something is hung,
or what not, it still will not lock, so I have to
resort to logging out completely.
What could cause this?
And, isn't there a hot-key sequence to lock my screen?

On a related note...
I notice sometimes apps kind of unexpectedly
stutter/hang momentarily too, not sure why.
My machine is a P4 2Ghz/512Mb Ram w/ swap file =

Not running any big services on it, only rsource
sucking app is VmWare (XP inside, used for Outlook
only) and i don't always run it.... 
Again this is RH 9.0.

Any idear?

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