My first exposure to the term TANSTAAFL or "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch" was in Robert Heinlein's classic "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and again in his later, "The Cat Who Walks Through Walls". Yesterday, I had reason to recall the term - or at least its derivative "There ain't no such thing as a free game".
I had just been up removing spyware from my daughter's computer (again!), when I noticed my son playing that old classic "Elf Bowling 3" from nStorm. I started thinking about when that one came out and whether there might be newer ones available. Later that evening I went to the nStorm site to find out.
Sure enough, there were two newer versions: Super Elf Bowling, and Elf Bowling Bocce Style. I downloaded them and realized they were installers. The old versions were just exe's that would run without dropping anything on your system. I was a bit put off that they wanted to actually install. So, I installed them on a clean Virtual Machine. The bocce style one wouldn't even run. I've tried it on three machines now (the VM, my son's machine, and a Windows Vista box). It just crashes on start. Nothing to see there - it's junk. The Super Elf Bowling though ran fine. Each version of the Elf has gotten to be more and more just an advertisement for buying unlocked versions of the game. They've had more and more functions not available unless you buy. This one had even more, but if you clicked continue enough times it would eventually let you play a game that was at least OK.
Installing for real
After testing this in the virtual machine, I installed it for my son. Immediately his SpySweeper (http://webroot.com) started complaining about NavExcel NavHelper. Looking up NavExcel showed that it is AdWare capable of hijacking your browser (directing you to places that are not what you typed in) and also showing popup ads. Now, I don't normally install a spyware removal tool into clean test VM's - but this showed me that I should start doing that. I'd unwittingly installed AdWare onto my son's machine! (About this particular AdWare: http://www3.ca.com/securityadvisor/pest/pest.aspx?id=453074928)
Removed and banned
Fortunately SpySweeper had actually prevented most of the NavExcel thing from installing. It cleaned the rest of it with no problem. Armed with the information from SpySweeper, we cleaned up my virtual machine manually. Who knew that nStorm had morphed from a company that produced cute, free games into a company that distributes AdWare with their new "buy me, buy me" limited games. If they don't want to send out free games anymore - hey, that's cool. But installing AdWare on people's machines is just plain wrong. nStorm is relegated to a memory: we won't be visiting the site or installing anything they produce. The upside is that now my son knows TANSTAAFL and he hasn't even read the book yet!