Linux optimize

The Netflix Linux conjecture: How Netflix snubs the Linux community

Jack Wallen asks the powers that be at Netflix why they don't stream to Linux. If you are a true Linux fan, the answer will ruffle your feathers as much as it did Jack's.

Conjecture: A conjecture is a proposition that is unproven but appears correct and has not been disproved. If that statement confuses you (and it may if you're not a student of math), then you understand exactly how I felt during a discussion with Netflix' Steve Swasey (VP of Corporate Communications - aka "Spin Doctor"). Quite frankly, the man didn't spin the discussion in such a way to make Netflix anything but a tiny bit ignorant of the topic at hand.

Before I go any further, I should probably tell you what this is all about. Netflix has a feature that allows members to stream movies directly to their PCs. To accomplish this, they use Microsoft's Silverlight technology. Silverlight is basically a web-application framework that provides functions similar to that of Adobe Flash.

Now, with that out of the way, let me give you the gist of the conversation between myself and Mr. Swasey:

MEHello, I am a freelance writer for Techrepublic (CNET), Linux.com, and Ghacks.net and I get a LOT of readers asking why Netflix does not support Linux. I plan on doing an article on this very subject and was wondering if I could get your official statement on this very subject. SteveJack, Netflix wants to be ubiquitous on any screen you want to watch TV shows and movies on and we're working to get on as many platforms as we can.  However, Linux currently does not have a Microsoft Silverlight plug-in that's comparable with Netflix playback. Please let me know if you have other questions. MESteve, Have you looked into Moonlight yet? It is a collaboration between Novell and Microsoft. With this plugin, you are able to view Silverlight content on Linux. This works as a Firefox plugin and works quite well. I can even go to the Microsoft Silverlight site and view content with this plugin. With that being said, how can you not support this when Microsoft itself allows the streaming of their content using the Moonlight plugin? Thanks for your input on this. It will make a very widely read and anticipated article as there are a LOT of Linux users out there who feel they've been shunned with services like yours. STEVE: Jack, Moonlight is a partial Silverlight replacement but it does not include PlayReady DRM technology. ME: Steve, so really this doesn't come down to Linux and Silverlight, but DRM?  This surprises me. Since Apple, being one of the more paranoid companies on the planet, dropped DRM on their music, I assumed everyone would follow suit. I guess I was wrong in that assumption. One thing that I don't quite understand is that the Roku player uses a Linux OS. How is that possible that you can stream to that device and not to PCs? Why did you decide to go with Silverlight anyway?  Thank you for your time. I hope that some day you will drop the DRM constraints so everyone can enjoy your instant play feature. STEVE: Jack, DRM is critical and we won’t do without it as we’re serious about protecting the copyright of our studio partners’ content. ME: I have to say the opinion of the general public of DRM is not very favorable. I've also noticed (on your forum) a number of Linux developers calling out to say they would gladly work with getting a DRM version of Moonlight available. And since Moonlight works very well with any content streamed to Silverlight - it seems like a win-win situation. Neflix would win over a multitude of possible users and would only have to reach out to the Linux development community to create the underlying software (DRM'd Moonlight).  I will also say that I have been a mouthpiece of the open source community for over twelve years. I know what they went through with Apple and the now-offered DRM-free music on iTunes. Ubuntu now has the Ubuntu One Music Store and has access to 7digital DRM-free music. Authors can publish their written work to Amazon DRM-free. I realize that the RIAA is a bastard of an organization and I am sure your hands are tied. Anyone in this country that knows of how the RIAA works, and has a modicum of ethics, wouldn't send a penny there way. I would bet your hands are tied with production studios as well. Be that as it may, if you were to reach out to the open source community and say "If you can deliver Netflix a version of Moonlight that will work with DRM, we will offer our services to your operating system", you would have it done in a surprisingly fast time. STEVE: Jack, I appreciate your passion around this subject.  And there are many engineers at Netflix who would enjoy the debate with you.  However, we need to stay focused on the platforms we’re supporting, knowing we’re not everything for everybody all the time.

And that was that. A Netflix representative made it very clear, and official, that they do not plan on supporting any other technology than Microsoft and Intel-based OS X computers. Why? Not because of Silverlight (which was the original claim), but because of DRM. I made it very clear in one of my replies that there have been Linux developers who have informed Netflix they would be willing to create a DRM-enabled version of Moonlight for Netflix in order to get Instant Watch capabilities on Linux...but Netflix doesn't care about that. They don't even care that they wouldn't have to pay a single penny to get this developed.

But what should the Linux community do about this? Is this an issue they should just turn a blind eye to? Should they all boycott Netflix? I have a better idea. Ubuntu has proven they can offer nearly the same product as Apple with the Ubuntu One Music store. Why can't they take this to 11 and offer streaming (or purchasable) movies along side of the music? And here's a good idea - don't offer it to any other platform. Do something better than what Windows and OS X has and keep it to ourselves.

I don't know what the true solution is, or if there even is a solution. But I do know this is so typical of companies to basically ignore a HUGE cross section of the worlds desktop users (and don't anyone bother to say that Linux is a vast minority because it's not..not when you consider outside the boundaries of the United States).

From my perspective this makes Netflix not only look bad, but look ignorant. A VP says to me they can't stream to Linux because Linux doesn't have Silverlight. But when they get hit with the realization that there is a working replacement for Silverlight they change their tune to DRM...which in turn reminds me that the decision is probably not even Netflix decision to make, but the studios. And just like the RIAA seems to bully the entire market, the Motion Picture Industry is obviously doing the same thing.

Where do you stand on this? What should the Linux community do (if anything)?

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

157 comments
billykrystal245
billykrystal245

i think our best bet is to start copying movies from netflix from windows posting them on torrents and put a huge caption on the video that says stolen from netflix because they wont support netflix.

solo2101
solo2101

what I have learn in all this years of using Linux is that when this happens, they are actually pushing the community to "work around" (hack) the system. I mean.. just take a look at WINE...

squirehay
squirehay

I have been paying for netflix for years, and I am really thinking of canceling over this. It is one thing to disagree over implementation issues (if they choose a format that cannot be viewed on Linux, oh well), but to find out there is absolutely no reason other stupid prejudice pisses me off.

makingITEasier
makingITEasier

To me it seems that Google is the 10K lb primate in the room that is (supposedly) pushing a Linux-based OS (Chrome) out to the masses and may have something to say about all this. Though I hate to rely on the almighty Google to rescue us Linux low-lifes, it seems unlikely that if Google is as successful with Chrome as it has been with Android that Netflix and other myopic companies that spew their goods only on Windows will not want to dip their cups in this massive revenue stream. But, until it becomes trendy and way past obvious that this is what they should do - I don't think they'll do it. Likely I think Google will release a competing offering that works on all platforms and Netflix will die a quick and painful death. I know Shuttleworth and Google have been collaborative on other projects - maybe this could be a win-win for them as well - ha! more conjecture...

trytryagain
trytryagain

So how does it run on ROKU and also the planned Netflix Android app without silverlight, but on Linux?

bclomptwihm
bclomptwihm

I don't own a Linux box. I don't watch Netflix because the content is 99% drivel...

jfreedle2
jfreedle2

After 15 years of looking at Linux and trying to see if it could indeed replace Windows as my Operating System of choice, I have decided that it will never be able to replace Windows and I have decided to stop wasting my time. In my testing it just does not work as an environment in which you can trust.

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

Hmmm. Linux markjet share is 1% of the OS share. Windows and Macs combine to over 90%. I don't think NetFlix is in the rush. Don't blame them.

Ventaur
Ventaur

With all eyes on Oracle's lawsuit against Google over Java, I believe many companies are going to shy away from open source. It's a simple matter of FUD. In addition, the RIAA is all about fear. I can't say I blame Netflix for their stance. With their own safety an uncertainty, it makes sense to watch how things unfold just a little longer.

zhuatclfk
zhuatclfk

You did nothing but ask leading questions and present your agenda. Netflix's responses were reasonable and exactly what I would expect, but your editorial B.S. makes them seem like the bad guys. You're barking up the wrong tree. They have to use DRM because the content providers insist on it. One day if they get the clout in video distribution that Steve Jobs has in digital music distribution maybe they can get the providers to ditch it, but that's not likely because it's a different business model to begin with. Also, idle threats of boycotts or other adverse actions come off very childishly. Linux has an estimated one percent of the desktop market. It's not the mouse that roared, it's just a mouse. I wouldn't want to waste my limited resources trying to capture a fraction of one percent either. Now if something could be worked out with the open source community to get Netflix working on Moonlight with DRM at little or no cost to Netflix, well then that's great, but you won't get that cooperation writing articles like this. You do the community a disservice in that respect.

Solifugus
Solifugus

Few movies are available for non-copyright protected delivery services. And few will be any time soon. I like the idea of building an open media streaming service (OMSS maybe--it sounds kinda like "don't mess with us" when you say it). Perhaps if enough free media content sources were available with an open hand to non-free media content then it might eventually entice the music and movie industries along. And, of course, we'd do better than Hulu and Netflix.

kevin.nichols
kevin.nichols

TiVo is linux, and it works fine on TiVo. I think the issue is they do not want to support a second streaming technology with DRM. Moonlight may play silverlight, but if netflix supports it, then it would require devolopers to keep testing it to make sure it works everytime microsoft or moonlight bug fix or upgrade. I think they should let the linux group develope Moonlight with DRM, and just have Netflix not try to break it on purpose. Then the support will just be in the wild. Most users who use Linux are smarter than the average bear and should be able to quickly fix Moonlight with DRM if it breaks.

MaranathaP
MaranathaP

Jack, you are obviously pulling at straws trying to find something to have an argument over. Netflix is a business in a very competitive space with Hulu, Blockbuster, satellite, cable operators, and others working to take away its pie. Netflix is a content provider. Period. They do not generate the content that they are trying to protect and must sign agreements with the studios, networks, distributors, etc. to provide it. Your question is better suited to why they went with Silverlight and not Flash. Frankly, I doubt Netflix is all that concerned with the handful of people that have only a linux computer and nothing else, such as am Xbox 360, PS 3, or Wii, Windows PC, or the number of other devices available to view their content with. Who is that? Not someone who would be paying the $10 a month for the service. It's a good thing you're a linux geek and not an attorney. That was a dumb article and a complete waste of time.

kpbarry
kpbarry

In my opinion, one of the problems with content providers and game manufacturers is their perception that users of free operating systems are too poor or cheap and to pay for any software or digital content. They assume that any copy protection schemes will be broken in short order because they perceive the user base to be more technically skilled. So even if there is a good sized market, they probably don't think that we would pay for their products even if they did provide them for Linux. But have they stopped piracy? I know lots of guys, who have the money to purchase apps and content, who refuse to pay for something which they can get for free. And it is sooooo easy to come by all of that free stuff. I'll give everybody one guess what OS they all use.

Burp
Burp

Why does the Linux community think everything should be free? Netflix is a business. They want to make a profit. They can make deals to allow viewing of movies only if they can ensure the copyright of the movie. Otherwise, the studio will not allow them to stream it. Many in the younger generation, and some from mine, feel it is fine to hack the copyright protections and send copies of movies to all of their friends. How would you like to be an independent developer, create a great app, and have someone distribute it (along with a key) to everybody? This happens too often and that may be why you see very few great new apps. Also, consider this. From a business standpoint, freeware has risks. That may be why they want to stay away from Moonlight. Most freeware apps have imbedded back doors. DOD has banned the use of freeware, and I think I know why.

edh1215
edh1215

I'm not going to respond to any replies to my post. I am stating an opinion. Linux = crap So get Windows or Mac like most of the world and shut the F up.

gavin_bewick
gavin_bewick

Suggestion, Hijack Netflix'a streams and run them through to a community developed drm enabled linux version. Offer the Linux community Netflix using Netflix and some mapping and a proxy.

dpresley_50201
dpresley_50201

There are enough developers in the Linux world that I'm sure some of them could make oodles of money offering a service easier to use, works on all platforms and the subscription fees are the same, or lower. For music, it isn't just the RIAA, but ASCAP is also pretty sensitive about people distributing, and publicly playing music royalty free. If anyone has had to purchase an "ASCAP License" to play music in a public venue, you know what I mean.

Nader Newman
Nader Newman

Resistance is futile all operating systems will be Linux based. With Android moving into the consumer appliance and set box space this will strengthen the case. I say build the support and give it to their competitors being Block Buster or some of the cable companies that provide video on demand. Don't give it to Netflix!

cbader
cbader

You always make it seem like the Linux install base is way bigger than it is. Whats Linux's market share, less than 5%. Boycott, Im sure theyll notice....

Cal-In-All
Cal-In-All

A little bit of each would apply the pressure to Netflix to modify its business practices. They need to perceive that is the case. It doesn't even have to be real. Corporations make decisions too fast with limited information because they live in 90-day segments so time to make the best decision is not even a consideration. A boycott is effective only if the company views it as hurting their (not there) bottom line. So that can help. Having a DRM-based Moonlight available should be in place so that they will have an option if the boycott appears to Netflix to be successful. A completing service (not limited to Linux) would allow those boycotters and do-nothings an option and Netflix should be made to perceive the pressure that all these competing service users are taking business (as in dollars) away from the Netflix bottom line. And, if Netflix fails to see the lost dollars, then, the competing service will thrive and grow.

nkingcade
nkingcade

I think that the community should produce a parallel service and make it available to all platforms. Let's face it, most open-source applications are far superior to closed-source applications. This is directly due to the large developer audiences that measures open-source applications. I am sure someone can make money off the idea. I do not use Netflix in any form specifically for this reason. The open-source community has long been a "take care of yourself" community anyway.

phertiker
phertiker

If someone mentioned these things already I apologize; I tried to read through as many of the comments as I could but I'm running out of time. First off, look at the length of your "questions" compared to his answers. You come off more as an evangelist than an interviewing journalist. I can understand this as I too have very strong feelings on the uselessness of DRM, but still: you supposedly had a focus of inquiry, and instead you go on at length about things like Apple removing DRM from their music. Which brings me to my second point: you are comparing Netflix lack of Linux support because of DRM to Apple removing DRM from the MUSIC that they sell. I fail to see how music and movies are the same thing. The RIAA and the MPAA are not the same organizations, however similar they act. Can you provide me with links to digital copies of MPAA-funded and produced movies that are released without DRM? I don't mean indie movies released on Clearbits, I want big-budget bile that the movie industry vomits all over us every summer. Incidentally, all of the movies and TV shows released on Itunes use the Fairplay DRM scheme... I agree that DRM sucks, but this article is a poor attempt at convincing a corporate shmuck that they are wrong. All it does is rile up the already riled hardcore free-as-in-oxygen crowd.

ejones34
ejones34

We (Ubuntu users) need to create our own, better service, then offer it to other platforms. It would be pretty nifty to take some customers away from Netflix, right?

fairportfan
fairportfan

I don't stream movies anyway. Crappy picture, and even on a good connection they stutter and skip.

NetComSulting
NetComSulting

That's all it's about, and Limux has such a small market share that there is no reason to even spend time and effort on this. If you have less than 1.5% of the driving population that are midgets, you are not going to cater a vehicle made for them, it just doesn't happen. When they need something for their vehicle so they can drive it, the have it custom made. Same with Linux.

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

I was just considering signing up for Netflix but now I'm not going to and I'm going to contact them and tell them why.

SKDTech
SKDTech

Based on some quick research I can't find any sites that put Linux over 7% usage share so even if I am generous and double that Linux is still well behind the curve Jack so I will feel free to say that it is a vast minority compared to Windows. But I do agree that Netflix is ignoring a significant slice of the market by shutting out desktop Linux. Now if a major player like Canonical were to build a truly platform agnostic service, get the content and compete with Netflix we could see some real interesting things develop. Competition improves the market and ultimately benefits the consumer.

England_forever
England_forever

make a WINE extenmsion that tells NEtflix it is windoz and run in that :)

Azathoth
Azathoth

Yeah, I was bummed that I can't stream Netflix to my Ubuntu box like I can my Wintel PCs. Then I bought a Roku box and haven't streamed a movie to any of my computers since.

FichenDich
FichenDich

I have been debating Netflix verses Hulu for a month now. I had been leaning toward Netflix until I read this article. Seeing as how my 19" monitor is connected to a machine running openSUSE 11.2 Netflix is DOA (Dead On Arrival). So Netflix spits on my $120 a year, too bad - so sad. I am certain that Hulu will appreciate it.

dcolbert
dcolbert

I'm just cynical. Too many things are aligned against Linux. No matter how much Linux improves, there is always some seemingly insurmountable obstacle which prevents massive consumer adoption of the platform by a wide consumer audience.

rpecorar
rpecorar

Maybe they're worried about what happened with Java. All open source sofware is subject to patent trolls.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

That question came up in the above conversation; the Netflix client can run on these *nix based platforms. It's not a technological issue but a political issue. A Netflix client for general purpose *nix distributions shouldn't be hard to produce. They've made the conscious decision, for whatever reason, not to allow it. I can stream Netflix to my TV through the Wii but I can't have a clean little netflix window open on my desktop while I'm working away on other things. Having spent a night with Netflix on a friend's PS3; it's a very slick service. It's just that your choices of viewing clients is artificially crippled.

cappy53
cappy53

@zhuatclfk I agree, Saying that because of their attitude I will no longer use Netflix is like saying I will commit suicide and that will show them. The solution is to somehow determine a method of accessing Netflix in spite of their attitude. After all we want the service. I am a very new Linux user (Mint 15 Olivia) and I am impressed and plan to continue to use it. I am still in the learning phase (perhaps I always will be) and I am realizing that it is not perfect but I understand that many are trying to make it that way and this is just one of the hurdles that must be overcome. It is a shame though that Netflix is being so obstinate.

eclypse
eclypse

My only comment is that Linux desktop market share is supposedly 1% right now. When there are fewer things that don't work on Linux, would you expect that number to go up? The number can never go up without the services people demand working on only two platforms. I think that in a roundabout way, that is maybe what everyone is getting at.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

It'd be interesting to see true figures of *nix based platform usage. Windows and osX benefit from being limited to retail distribution resulting in warehouse unit counts. It helps to overstate the actual use or inflate figures through business tricks. *nix, being freely available through several non-retail channels does not benefit from that same overstated warehouse unit count. Numbers are very easily understated making any discussion of market share questionable at best. It's possible the lion is roaring but the MBAs can't hear it through the earplugs they've got on. In terms of limited resources, Netflix has FOSS developers volunteering to get it working on *nix based systems and it already works on Roku's *nix based system so there is probably very little work required. Netflix could gain greater potential consumer base without expending noticeable resources. "if something could be worked out with the open source community to get Netflix working on Moonlight with DRM at little or no cost to Netflix" That is exactly what is openly being offered to Netflix. The bigger question is if it's the DRM developer or the Moonlight developers who are keeping Moonlight incompatible. My guess is that the DRM developer (Microsoft) is the culprit since the Moonlight developers are already creating a duplicate of a proprietary technology for lack of a native implementation of Silverlight. I'm still curious to know which way it actually is though.

hheightman
hheightman

Get over it. As of last month, Netmarketshare estimated that Linux (presumably all flavors) had captured less than 1 percent of the OS market. It is reasonable to conclude that a large portion of those installations are on servers of some type (web, database). That leaves, conservatively, one-half of one percent of eligible computers running Linux as a desktop alternative to Windows. Setting aside the shifting "logic" used by the Netflix spin master, it is not unreasonable for the company to focus its' efforts on PCs running Windows (92% share) and Mac OS (5% share) since they represent nearly 195 times the number of computer users who chose Linux. That's a 19,500% larger market. Reasonable people may disagree. Linux zealots seem only able to whine.

eclypse
eclypse

I don't want to steal anything from anyone, but what I do expect is that (as other people have said) when you use a OS agnostic medium like the Internet, then it really shouldn't matter how you access the content provided. I don't necessarily care if you actively support something, but I do think it sucks when you specifically block a particular OS (one reason I will never own a Blackberry). No wonder 90+% of people use MS - they have no other viable choice. Windows is VHS and Linux is Betamax, but no matter how good it is, if there's nothing to run on it, so what? And tell me, while you're at it, which freeware has EMbedded (not imbedded) back doors? Or is that just some crazy straw man argument just to be saying something to make yourself seem more important?

kpbarry
kpbarry

That most people who boot linux at home also have at least one Windows or OS X box (or partition) as well. So content providers (and game developers) go for the lowest common denominator. Another problem with the numbers is that every PC sold is usually counted as a "Windows PC" sold. The truth is that a certain percentage immediately have Linux installed, and as the PCs get older, even more end up having Linux installed. But this never get accounted for. Nor, I suspect, do home build PCs, which are probably a high percentage of Linux installs.

jlwallen
jlwallen

there is no way to actually account for all Linux installations. it's simply impossible. so any number you find is going to be wrong.

jlwallen
jlwallen

because the Roku uses a version of Linux as its OS. odd that isn't it?

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

The businesses that hold control over the proprietary services people demand won't permit them to be implemented under general Linux based distributions (Microsoft's DRM in this case) or the businesses claim there is no market share worth implementing those services for. So, the businesses claim there is no user base to justify the work and "the number can never go up without the services people demand working". Bit of a conundrum isn't it?

Justin James
Justin James

See one of my posts above with a link to the information on this. J.Ja

turbinepilot
turbinepilot

"But I do know this is so typical of companies to basically ignore a HUGE cross section of the worlds desktop users (and don?t anyone bother to say that Linux is a vast minority because it?s not..not when you consider outside the boundaries of the United States)." - jlwallen "there is no way to actually account for all Linux installations. it's simply impossible. so any number you find is going to be wrong." - jlwallen So, Jack, please quantify "HUGE" so that NetFlix can properly formulate their cost-benefit analysis.

SKDTech
SKDTech

But they are the only numbers we have. You work with what you got.

rmerchberger
rmerchberger

TiVo also runs on Linux - hacked my Series 1 box for years (always paid my dues; just added bigger hard drives, network card, up/downloaded my personal content, etc.) & they've run Linux from the start. I just checked - and Netflix can be streamed to TiVo boxen just fine, so it's not like it can't be done... Oh, and Netflix can stream to Wii units now, too - I see the ads all the time. Can the Wiis run Silverlight, or is it a specialized client? Laterz, "Merch"

phertiker
phertiker

since it's a proprietary box. It's not like everyone who uses a Linux kernel in their device is a member of the everything-open-source camp. Here's a list of the software they have open-sourced or already is open-source: http://www.roku.com/support/gpl_rdvp But I'm sure they are enjoying making money and keeping their proprietary Netflix player (with, I assume, some kind of DRM designed with Netflix support) closed-source is one way they hope to keep doing so.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I saw that post above and checked the link but skimmed the first few posts pretty quickly missing the report of the cause of the issue. Hurray.. Microsoft. A great example why proprietary technology have no place on the platform agnostic Internet.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

From the sounds of it and given that Moonlight is a reimplementation of Microsoft's proprietary Silverlight, I can't see them rejecting DRM implementation on an idealogical basis. The fact that the DRM involved is Microsoft's may indicate the cause though. Roku is a proof of concept that the issue is not remotely technological either. If they can implement support on a Linux based system than any Linux distribution is capable. I'd pull a netflix-player package from Debian's non-free if it was available.