Netflix’s new feature screws Mac and Linux

This doesn’t happen very frequently to us. Our bank is Mac- and Linux-friendly. Pretty much anything we use these days is Mac- and Linux-friendly.

Up until today, Netflix was also Mac- and Linux-friendly. I just got an email from them telling me

Your $____ plan not only gives you 3 DVDs out at-a-time but you can also watch 17 hours of movies and TV episodes instantly on your PC each month – for no additional charge.

Check it out: www.netflix.com/WatchNow

Sounds good, right? Then I log into my Netflix account and see that my operating system is not compatible. When I click for more details, I get this:

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Thanks, Netflix. My wife is a Mac user who uses Camino. I’m a Ubuntu user who uses Firefox. The User Agent Switcher extension didn’t even cut it. Netflix was having none of this. Why? Why Windows Service Pack 2 with Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player? Who comes up with these ideas?

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39 Comments

  1. This feature came out quite a while ago, and I felt exactly as you do.

    It has to do with DRM and control. Netflix can’t really control the video streams if they supported Linux – people would find a quick, easy way to save the DVD-quality movies.

    I dual-boot Vista, and let me tell you, this is a great feature. I have a very very high-speed connection and a decent video card, so the movies are of the best possible quality. It is nice to call up movies on demand, but there aren’t that many titles yet.

    This is just another reason to a) dual boot or b) not use Ubuntu full time (something I wish I could do).

  2. Just show your protest by not doing business with them.

    Anyway watching movies on the computer is no fun at all as far as I’m concerned.

  3. That must suck :'(.

    I remember the BBC was doing this for a while with iPlayer, but right after they got flamed and went back to try and find a “freer” solution…

    You could always call/email netflix and ask them to either get it to work with Mac OSX, and/or Linux (It’d be easier for them to work with OSX… And plus you have a Mac) or even better ask to have the hours given to you as DVDs, or get a discount (If netflix is a monthly-paid service, I don’t know) on your purchases for not having taken the free streaming offer.

  4. I’m seriously considering that course of action. A lot depends on my wife, since she’s a heavier user of Netflix than I am. She may go for it. After all, she is a Mac user, and so is barred from this new feature.

    As for it having to do with DRM and control, I understand that, but it isn’t as if DRM and control is the exclusive realm of Microsoft. If Apple has iTunes (with only EMI tracks being available without DRM), can’t it also have streaming Netflix?

  5. No, DRM isn’t the exclusive realm of MS, but they are the biggest and the best. Look at it from a programmer’s point of view:

    We have to reach the most amount of people AND include a fantastic end-user experience. What has 90% market share? Windows. I’m sure Netflix is working on a Mac solution, but for 6% of the population, it can wait. Linux, even less so.

    I am as much a believer in the Ubuntu/Linux philosophy as you, but I am also a realist. For the absolute best software and the most compatibility, I run Windows. I’d rather run Ubuntu, but I can’t. For now.

  6. I agree with you UbuntuCat, I think it’s wrong locking/forcing paying customers into using a singe/different platform. Sure, the “compatibility” with windows is nice, but I decided to ditch Microsoft for good when windows took out itself and all the other partitions on my harddrive because I didn’t activate it right away. I’m doing this on principle (even though I believe their software sucks), because I don’t like their “We own your computer, not you” attitude and their crappy compliance with standards/international laws and things. But this isn’t just about Microsoft.

    I think you should either:
    a) send the highest manager you can get ahold of at Net Flicks a nasty gram stating why you might leave their service (perhaps also tell them how many potential customers you know that you’ll inform of this),

    b) get together a group of angered Mac and Linux users that are subscribed to Net Flicks and complain, or

    c) (maybe this is a bit extreme, save it if Net Flicks and other companies don’t listen to anyone) take it to the press.

    Netflix, just like any other big company, has to realize that they don’t have the power to choose what OS you use, and that it is unprofessional to simply ignore all other major platforms. Something tells me that this has more to do with vendor-lock-in than DRM, because they also require Internet Explorer, and Windows media-player. You’d be surprised at how many under-the-table deals Microsoft has struck with other companies to keep them on the anti-competitive top. Besides, there’s easier, more elegant solutions to DRM content through flash and other cross-platform compatible things.

    IMHO, I think DRM is cumbersome, and ultimately useless. I think users will always find a way to get at the DRM-ed content.

    As far as being locked to users of other browsers, this is why the the viewable with any browser campain started (at www dot anybrowser dot org slash campain). Based on your past blogging, I’m sure you’d agree with this.

    Oh and Edmundo, based on all the things I’ve read about OS market-share, Mac-OS may actually have a lower share than Linux based systems, even though Macs are more well known than Linux (it has to do with Linux users being harder to track than Mac-OS users).

    Sorry I went on a splurge, but that’s my 2 cents. Not trying to start a flame war about MS, but this is my opinion (and I tend to get a little cranky when I’m tired, like I am now :) ). I’d rather share the Ubuntu/Free-software philosophy than fixate on the negative things MS has done.

  7. Well, the obvious answer, of course, is what hari proposed earlier–stop doing business with them and let them know why. As I said before, though, it’s entirely dependent on my wife, who uses Netflix much more than I do. Who knows? Maybe after she finishes her Star Trek: Voyager binge she’ll be receptive to the idea.

  8. I use Blockbuster anyway, I’ve never liked Netflix, as I can just exchange my movies at the store anyway. Way better. Plus I’d pirate my movies before I used Netflix Watch Now feature.

  9. Thanks for the link, Derik. If the ability to stream to a Mac through Firefox comes about, would it be too hard to hack for Linux? Just curious.

    As for Blockbuster, my wife and I tried that before, and we just didn’t like their selection. We love our Hollywood smash-’em-ups as much as the next person, but we also dig obscure cult/independent/foreign films, too.

    And even though my wife was appalled at the fact that Netflix is doing this Watch Now Windows-only in IE, she didn’t want to cancel. After she finishes Voyager, she’s moving on to Enterprise, apparently.

  10. The ability to play the movies is going to be tied up in Microsoft’s Silverlight plugin. As far as I know, they’re not releasing a Linux version of the plugin (they have Windows and Mac versions out now).

    Basically, it all comes down to DRM. Unfortunately.

  11. Well, If X netflix users decides to dual boot just to use this, then they have won. And we have lost. Everytime you let a company decide what OS you should use you, the customer, lose. So it is all about deciding whether it is more important to watch movies from a computer or to make sure paying users get the respect they deserve.

  12. My thing is this; you can download almost everything and anything you want online. What point would there be in trying to rip the stream? The people who are paying for it wouldn’t go get it for free anyway, and the people who aren’t paying don’t care about perfect quailty; they’ll happily download non-dvd quality as long as it doesn’t look like a camcorder in a movie theatre. So they’re not getting anything by holding out. DRM is a joke.

  13. what bank do you use?

    i’m running mac OS9.2, which is no longer compatable with Chase; I’ve not been able to log in at home for months now and am willing to switch banks to do it..

    *the on-line references for Linux/ Ubuntu frienldy banks is very outdated..yours is the most recent link on the subject I can find..

    pls reply privately, if best..
    Thanks

    AC

  14. oh; since my mac is several years old my brother in law gave me a PC Shuttle computer loaded w/ Ubuntu; I’m working through computer connectivity issues currently, but once I can stay on line without broken connections, I really hope Ubuntu/linux will be a viable option for me.. Any recommendations would be helpful.

    Thanks
    AC

  15. This is really interesting. Have you tried running the Netflix thing in a virtual machine to see if that works? Also, if it really is based on Silverlight, do you think that the Linux clone will let Linux users enjoy this feature within a year? That would be quite a step forward.

  16. Net flicks sucks. I am quitting and looking for a new option since I can’t handle the fact that they would release this program without care for me as a customer. I am sure they ahve figures for the number of PC users browsing their stacks and apparently they said “go elsewhere” to me. I hear them and have decided to go back tot blockbuster as friends have done already.

  17. I have successfully run NetFlix streaming under Unbuntu
    using VirtualBox. The video quality is no where near
    the quality of true XP via dual booting. The video
    has “tearing” issues and it looks like there is a loss in anti-aliasing features. It is still watchable !
    I am going to try VMWare next. Supposedly they have
    a better virtual video driver. The best solution
    for Linux would be for the Wine(x) groups to get
    IE 6 + WMP 11 + ActiveX support working. Nice dream.

  18. I signed up for NetFlix tonight, have a 2 week free trial. I just watched a movie in VirtualBox Windows XP, using MSIE 7. I had to up the amounts of Video Ram (I went up to 128 MB) and RAM (Went to 768 MB) allocated to the VM in order to do this. It got choppy a couple times, but was watchable overall.

    Nonetheless, during the course of my trial, I am going to call NetFlix and inform them I will not pay the same price as their Windows customers for a reduced functionality. I wouldn’t be inclined to use this VM ‘hack’ on a regular basis.

    I doubt they’ll create a pricing plan just for me, so I’ll be canceling during the trial. Not online though, over the phone for sure. Of course, it won’t be likely to make any difference if the representative I talk to has never heard of Linux! Oh well.

  19. Sorry to double post, but this reminds me of the experience I had with my Sprint EVDO PCMCIA Card for my laptop. It works fine in Linux, but has to be activated in Windows using the Sprint software the first time it is used. And the Sprint tech support person actually said to me “Well if you have Windows in a virtual machine, the PC card is just a USB device, so it should work there” He was right. I don’t think that advice would have been given a couple years ago!

    So maybe there is hope?

  20. Just a thought, have you tried crossover? It can be found at http://www.codeweavers.com. I’ve used it for years for things that are windows specific. It does not work with everything, but will work with many. You can also try wine to see if that works by installing the binaries and trying the stream out there. Try wget to grab the install player from netflix. It’s perhaps worth a try.
    I’m trying to decide on netflix or blockbuster for my movies. I may simply go with blockbuster since there is one on the way to work and I’ll not have to deal with the frustration of hacking my linux to work with the player.

  21. What would I be running in Crossover–Internet Explorer? I can run that in Wine now, but I still can’t use the Watch Now feature in Netflix. I could always dual-boot, I suppose, but that’s annoying. My wife and I prefer to use Mac OS X and Ubuntu, respectively, so we’re just foregoing Watch Now and have bumped down our Netflix subscription.

  22. why can Linux users accept that there are reasons for DRM i mean the company isn’t going to just give you all thier films! unfortunately until linux users realize that
    1) we don’t rule the world
    2)we need to be compatible with business models
    we will get stuck without legal ways of watching films/tv shows online:(
    id be surprised if they didn’t remedy the mac situation soon tho!i mean it was largely drm that edged apple back into a serious Microsoft wasnt it?

  23. I used to be rather “OS-neutral”, though I use Linux (Kubuntu) 98% of the time because it makes me happier. I have 15G of XP space still on my drive, however XP is the last version of the Microsoft OS I will have bought, because of DRM. I will not purchase any PC which has Vista or any other Microsoft OS preinstalled, if this means that I can’t listen to particular music or watch particular movies then I will not watch them. I finally made up my mind after reading this:
    http://badvista.fsf.org/what-s-wrong-with-microsoft-windows-vista

    and especially this:
    http://www.cs.auckland.ac.nz/~pgut001/pubs/vista_cost.html

  24. Businesspeople. They want to make a profit; they probably don’t have enough non-Windows users to make it worth their time and money.

  25. Xbehave: There are no legitimate reasons for DRM.
    1. Netflix DRM has already been circumvented. It’s impossible to design DRM that cannot be cracked.
    2. DRM removes rights of ownership of content. When I purchase content, I should be able do what I want with it. That means putting it on other media, like dvd or ipod. Why should I pay for content I don’t own?
    3. DRM is defective by design. It creates lots of bugs and technical problems, often even breaking legally purchased content.
    4. Any content netflix releases with DRM can be obtained by other means on the net illegally. Look at it from the perspective of a linux user: They can’t obtain content legally because no one is willing to sell it to them. But all of the content is still available illegally.

  26. “2. DRM removes rights of ownership of content. When I purchase content, I should be able do what I want with it. That means putting it on other media, like dvd or ipod. Why should I pay for content I don’t own?”

    Ummm… You do realize these are rentals right? You don’t own a rental, regardless of whether it is delivered digitally or by mail on a disc.

    I’m sorry, but this a completely justified use of DRM. But for downloads that I pay full price for, sure those shouldn’t have any – I bought it after all.

  27. Watch out you can only watch Netflix on 4 computers then you have to cancel your account if you format and reinstall or wait a year for the computer tracker to be reset by netflix. This is bull. Also there is a 37 min wait for the watch it now tech-support and the guy there is very rude.

  28. “I’m sorry, but this a completely justified use of DRM. But for downloads that I pay full price for, sure those shouldn’t have any – I bought it after all.”

    The fact is, there are several illegal yet easy means for people to get DRM-free copies of any movie. If someone wants to pay Netflix to rent a movie, they’re choosing to be legal and trying to give Netflix money. Why does Netflix insist on making it harder for some users to give them money by having DRM and requiring an OS known for instability and security holes? Sounds like bad business to me.

  29. I have a number of issues with Windows. I finally got rid f it, to find out that Netflix is Windows specific as far as online tv shows and movies are concerned.

    If they chose to be that way, I will take my business elsewhere. I’m going to shop around before I take action.

    As for all other uses of Linux, it supports my printer, my Ipod, my digital camera, there are word processors for it, other office software, even specialize screenwriting and other film software that I use for it. Netflix is no reason to go back to an expensive, buggy operating system that is too paranoid these days to even make the installation disks available with new pcs.

  30. DRM technologies are not only available on Microsoft operating systems (how about Adobe Flash, that works on most major operating systems). And anyway, if they are scared of people illegally copying video streams, why the hell are they in the DVD rental business? Do they realize that it is extremely easy to rip and burn a DVD now-a-days, if I wanted to copy movies I’d much rather take the physical media approach than the digital stream one.

    And the fact that they assume we are going to illegally copy the videos pisses me off in the first place, isn’t that against the GNU philosophy. The percentage of Windows users that I know who pirate things is greater than the percentage of Linux users that I know who pirate things… I think this is generally because Linux users look for things that are truly free, not just $0.

  31. Yeah I dumped Vista because one day I went to play my netflix DVD’s and got “error you are not licensed to consume protected content” So not just the instant watch but the DVD disks stoped playing. No reason why and the only fix is an ordeal that entails dumping all your purchased (not rented content) for everyone amazon, itunes whoever in order to reset Vistas DRM. XP works fine Vista eat’s data , can’t burn plain data CD’s or DVDs half the time and can’t play store bought DVDs at random times and none of my commercial DVD player apps or nero /esay cd creator software works either those all the open source ones like VLC still do.

    Netflix is not the bad guy here (though they are caving in) it’s Microsoft and the Motion picture association. The motion picture companies are greedy scum and they sometimes nearly shoot themselves in the foot, to say nothing of running over the consumer, in their blind efforts to monopolize and control distribution. Ok produce movies fine make them good and sell them even copy protect them but Don’t control usage/swap technologies, or invent fake incompatibilities just to screw paying consumers, or deceive and force them into buying expensive crap hardware\software that steals control. They region lock the DVD’s and want you to think it’s illegal to buy from other countries as copyright violation. Yeah take a book you bought in the USA to France on vacation start reading it and see if the publisher trys to tell you it’s copyright infringement..er no ? how about unauthorized consumption? No ? er ..that is we’d prefer you buy another copy over there please as long as you don’t bring it home in case it’s cheaper over there where it’s been out for 2 months. If it were a DVD they’d put scary warnings and threaten to throw you in prison if they couldn’t lock the players to their preference. When the VCR came out they stamped their feet in front of congress and said “This is the greatest threat the motion picture association has ever faced, no one will go to the movies anymore! No more films will be made in this country ever again! The film industry will fade away.” Think of what that will do to the economy! When VCR recorders came out they demanded they be outlawed. If they had their way then the video rental business and countless other markets would have never popped up generating billions. If they had their way the FBI would have been investigating and the DA prosecuting people for ten years for making a copy of “Bambi” oh wait they did get that law.

    Someday Windows XP will be not supported for anything using DRM or any newer applications. Installing opensource movie players like VLC will cause Vista to delete your purchased content as will new versions of the content player comming out or the start of a new year, or the stars not being aligned, or them wanting you to buy HD-DVD’s. (Hey I had HD display on my PC monitor in 1990) or a re-release. MS has filed a patent to expand upon the resource gobbling DRM monster who’s underpinnings they somewhat integrated already into Vista at the users expense.

    What are they planing ? Someday not too far off you’ll Pay for a subscription to windows, pay for a gamer module to use your 3d graphics card and direct-X. 5$ a month for 14 hours a week of use of your $400 3d graphics card. Pay premium gamer fee $12 a month to have unlimited Direct X 11 access to 3d acceleration as long as you stay registered and connected via broadband to Microsoft games for windows service. Pay $10 a month for Microsoft office.

    Microsoft has realized they can’t keep charging $300 for the same word processor even with big stupid icon buttons, a switched up menu and a blog posting wizard any more then they can sell an inferior $300 remix of their previous OS that sucks up resources to monitor your system, and video card for compliance hundreds of time per millisecond so it can dump the graphics subsystem on a whim. Here is Vista with contrived features and a different UI and split it into versions that charge extra for, or simply lack features you already had in your last OS purchase.

    Just like Adobe realized people only need so much from photo shop and each release gets more bloated and has more marginally useful features or is a suite of bundled apps. What’s next when you have nothing new to add to a program ? You go to a subscription biased business model like the makers of 3dsmax, Photoshop and like Microsoft soon will be doing. Then you don’t have to worry wither you can sell a new version of your product that includes only trivial features along with some minor updates to support new technology or integration. These companies already refuse to let resellers sell previous versions after they want you buying the next one and try to tell you it’s a license violation to resell your purchased software and they will revoke your license.

    While you are paying to be policed and receive inferior quality and performance make sure you buy movies you can only watch conditionally. The motion picture companies are likely dropping brick over broadband streaming and Microsoft’s spiel about draconian DRM is the only thing preventing them from soiling themselves. MS doesn’t have to do this as thier platform will have content either way as it’s to big a market to drop, but hey MS benifits from anything they can make windows only as it helps convince consumers to not only accept but to shell out that money for the next kick in the pants. So it’s scratch our back we’ll scratch yours, everybody wins. Well except for the consumer but we can handle them. That’s what monopolies are for!

    Oh and be sure to pick up that HDMI connector as long as paying to get screwed even though it’s no better quality than component and the cable costs 5 times more because of it’s built in hardware copy protection for video and audio. Oh sure it looks better on 70% of DVD players because they,(as will Vista on next gen HDCCP compliant video cards) scale down the component output and generate noise on the display. Of course you paid for that, adding to the cost of your DVD player or video card too but they just market HDMI as “pure digital HD quality” like most consumers even know what that means. Like they will notice that that pricey DVD player they bought cost more so it could downscale and make fuzzy the output of non HDMI digital HD connections like component. Then once everyone thinks component is inferior they won’t mind paying for our content control and won’t miss when the better cheaper component outputs the video pros use disappear from consumer devices altogether in favor of encrypted connections that degrade after 3 feet.

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