What is it like to be a Gator user? We get plenty of reports in our forums, but we decided to get first-hand information by installing GAIN software on our own systems. We also wanted to find out if there are any good things about GAIN ads–do they have the potential to help users find great deals on products and services? The results weren’t pretty. Rob’s system became very unstable almost immediately. Dave didn’t have system instability, but received many GAIN ads that were anything but targeted.
Our experiences here are not meant to be a detailed examination of Gator or GAIN. They are just our subjective experiences and impressions while using (or attempting to use) GAIN.
First, I want to note that my three-year-old notebook PC has been extremely reliable, sometimes I go for weeks without rebooting. The PC is on constantly (closing the lid puts it in suspend mode) and I use it frequently. It runs Windows Me and does not have a lot of unusual applications on it, mainly Microsoft Office and Paintshop Pro.
Installation Oddities. For my first Gator/GAIN test I decided to download the ad-supported DivX package. I downloaded the software without problem, rebooted, and the GAIN application was running in memory in short order. Next I decided to test the uninstall process, since so much has been written about it. I removed DivX using Add/Remove Programs, it uninstalled without a problem. Now I tried to reinstall DivX again and BUMMER! I keep getting this crazy error where the installer crashes. Apparently, something was left behind that prevented a proper reinstall.
Straight to Gator. No problem, there are lots of ways to get Gator. I decided to go directly to the Gator web site and install Precision Time. After the install I look in memory and there are no new applications. Then I encounter my first problem: Internet Explorer is no longer working. Whenever I load a page it immediately says “page not found.” Other Internet applications continue to work fine–Outlook, FTP, Visual Interdev, etc. Reboot.
Resource hog. I checked my system resources before and after reboot: 82% before Gator was added, and 67% afterwards, an amazing 15% of precious system resources used for Precision Time. Compare that to less than 5% for Excel and Word combined!
First ads. Almost immediately I had the ad at right pop over my screen. First notice the title bar, it says “GAIN Adserver Software”. Are many people not seeing the title bar, or perhaps not making the connection between Gator and GAIN? Next, doesn’t this advertisement look a LOT like a Windows “blue screen of death?” The final irony is that this software is supposed to protect my privacy! At least the guys at Gator have a sense of humor.
More instability. With Gator running, my system starts acting erratically. The problems could be grouped into three different categories:
- IE stops working. One page will come up fine, and then I click a link on that page, and IE can no longer find anything on the Internet. All other Internet applications continue to work fine; only IE that stops working. The only solution is to reboot. By far, this is the most frequent problem, and it occurs four or five times a day. This problem NEVER happened before I installed Gator.
- PrintScreen crash. This only happened once, but it was really strange. Whenever I had a Gator ad, I pressed PrintScreen to get a copy of it. One time, I hit PrintScreen and immediately got a hard crash with the Blue Screen of Death and I had to reboot.
- Clicking sound. This happened once as well. I was clicking on a link, and on my system there is an audible click when I click on a link, and then IE goes to the next page. This time though, when I hit the link the clicking sound started and it just kept on making the sound; the system was frozen tight. The only way to recovery was to pull the power, and remove the battery. This has never happened before in all the time I have been using this computer.
Enough is enough. This is the PC I use for work. Gator’s support web pages (before the Claria name change) used to advise that “You may want to re-start the computer on a more regular basis if you currently do not, and close programs when you are not using them to free memory.” My approach was more direct, remove the Gator code causing the problem. I go to Add/Remove programs and uninstall Precision Time, but the uninstall craps out on me. Apparently, the uninstall process expects IE to be working to uninstall. So instead of using the Gator-blessed method to remove the application, I go into MSConfig and uncheck the three applications related to Gator: Precision Time, CMESYS, and GMT.
All better. More than a week after disabling Gator, ALL of the problems have disappeared. My computer is now running like it was before. But I was lucky. I am an experienced PC user, what would this be like for a computer novice? How much productivity is lost by workers that have inadvertently installed Gator on their business computers and have similar problems? I am now more convinced than ever that every PC that visits PC Pitstop should have Gator removed immediately.
I started my Gator experiment with the WeatherScope application fromt the Gator site. Fortunately I didn’t have the system stability problems that forced Rob to bail out of his GAIN trial after a very short time; some of that may be due to the stability of Windows XP versus Me. During a normal day I received from three to ten ads courtesy of GAIN. The number and style of ads varied significantly, depending on the web sites visited. I tended to get GAIN popups right after searching on Google, for example, but other ads appeared at times that didn’t seem to be related to recent browsing.
Clumsy self-promotion. In the first couple of days during the trial, I received some ads urging me to try a few more Gator applications such as Date Manager. Curiously, though, one of the ads was for WeatherScope, the Gator application I had already installed! I also received a popup asking if I were interested in participating in a survey about the Google Toolbar, which I also had installed. The survey was from Feedback Research, one of the divisions of Gator/Claria. From the questions asked it appears that they are very interested in the popularity of the features in Google Toolbar; perhaps we’ll see a Gator Toolbar in the future? (News Flash: It looks like the toolbar will be named after Search Scout, but the new site seems to be unfinished at the moment.)
Rosetta stone, anyone? GAIN wasn’t very sure about my country or my native language. I got ads in languages other than English, sometimes for the same product.
Living in a polyglot’s paradise. Call me Anglo-centric, but one of the things that surprised me with Gator’s ads was how many of them were not targeted at American English users. For example, I received one inkjet cartridge company’s ad in Finnish, German, and French, but I can’t recall seeing the ad in English even once. There was a Swedish ad for a company named GlobalCom that encouraged me to “klicka har”, and several ads for banking and dating services that were based United Kingdom, which of course doesn’t do me a lot of good here across the pond. If Gator could only read my college transcript, it would have known that the only language I took was Spanish. (I didn’t see any Spanish-language ads at all.)
GAIN misses the target. One of the supposed advantages to a system like GAIN is that the ads it delivers are targeted to the user’s interests, which makes users more likely to respond to those ads. My experience? GAIN wasn’t very good at figuring out what I really wanted. Those foreign-language and U.K. ads certainly didn’t hit the spot, for example. Here’s another one: I visited a sporting site one Monday to catch up on NFL results. In response, GAIN popped up a Search Scout window saying “Looking for NFL tickets?” Well, no, I’m not, but thanks for interrupting. You can see some of my other impressions of Search Scout here.
Where are the great deals? One big disappointment to me was that there were no “deals” to be had with GAIN. Somehow I had expected that when GAIN saw I was going somewhere to make a purchase, it would offer a better deal from another vendor. I actually came close to this situation only once, when I went to the Marriott site to make a hotel reservation. A GAIN ad popped up that offered 10 percent off room rates at a competing chain. When I clicked on the ad though, the same “10%-off” deal was being given to all comers on the chain’s home page. Plus, even with the discount the rates were much higher than the Marriott hotels. I suppose Gator would call this a “win” since I did look at the site, but to me it was just confirmed that these ads were not useful in finding bargains.
Your Mileage Will Vary
These were just our experiences, and we’re reporting them here because we haven’t seen much Internet discussion on the experience of using GAIN. Clearly, a lot of variables can affect the way GAIN works (or whether it works) on your computer. Since the GAIN ad network delivers ads based on what you do on your computer, your exact experience and targeted ads will vary from ours. But why put yourself through anything like this if you don’t have to?