Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Open It Up

Anyone here use alternate IM clients or web browsers? Programs like Trillian, GAIM, and Mozilla are alternate choices for what used to be widely used standards. Some of these programs were born through the initiatives of Open Source Software. For those unfamiliar with the term, there exists software available for use on many platforms that is absolutely free. Not only free of cost, but free for you to use and expand upon if you were so inclined.

"What's this got to do with poker?" you may be asking. Bear with me for a second.

These alternate software choices that I've mentioned are basically client programs that communicate with a central server somewhere out there on teh intarweb. How did they learn to communicate successfully with these proprietary, i.e. corporate owned, servers? Generally one of two ways: either they reverse-engineered the network protocol or the network protocol was published by the people that coded the servers.

Here's where we get to poker.

How many different poker clients do you have installed on your PC? I think I have over a dozen. That's kind of crazy. It's the equivalent of installing YahooIM, AOL Instant Messenger, Microsoft Messenger, ICQ, and many other programs just to chat with all my friends. I could install GAIM, run one single program and accomplish the same thing.

Wouldn't it be great if there was a poker client that could talk to all the poker servers out there?

If sites like Party Poker, Pokerstars, Full Tilt, you name it, would publish their network API, I would wager that in less than six months time we'd see a workable "universal" poker client. There's no technical reason why this couldn't happen. Smart software programmers could and WOULD come up with many innovations for the user's poker interface software.

Have an OpenGL/Direct3d hardware accelerated video card? I bet someone would program a kick-ass 3-D environment for their virtual poker table. Like tabbed browsing in a web browser? Make multi-tabling a single-window application with multiple tabs to represent different tables on different sites. Bill Rini has offered up other suggestions which have largely gone unnoticed. You wouldn't have had to wait for Full Tilt to provide hand histories if you could program it yourself.

Without direct knowledge of any poker client software out there, I'd have to wager that the public key used to encrypt transmissions from your PC to the server is buried in the client itself. Making that public shouldn't be a problem as web browsers like Mozilla are still capable of communicating with secure servers.

My guess is that this will never happen.

Most likely, whenever user-created software is developed, there are bugs and issues that sites like Party Poker have no intention of supporting. Which is fine, that's one of the "prices" you pay for free software. Also, some sites may like to think that their client software differentiates them in what's becoming a more crowded market. As an end-user, I'd have to disagree.

There is also a hidden element that is certainly conceivable, but rather unlikely to happen. An end-user created software client could, in theory, transmit your hand information to another server besides the server it's intended to. If enough users use this theoretical alternate client, then someone could gain access to hole cards and cheat the game. Open source advocates will maintain that because the source is open, such treachery would be easily seen and stopped. But then again, when's the last time you took a peek at the Mozilla source tree looking for insecure items?

Online poker sites probably don't have much to gain from opening their API and as a result probably won't. But if it did happen, I think we'd see many useful and neat features blossom from the more savy programmers out there.

One can hope.

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