I like Netflix in Principle. In fact, it is what we do instead of going to movies, most of the time. (Except the other day when we did go see Hancock.) But what they did with their Watch Instantly service was very disturbing to me. It only runs on Windows, and in fact, only runs with the widely despised Internut Explorer browser. Not even Windows Symps use AIEEE! as their browser. It made me want to Hate Netflix. But I remained in denial sufficiently to actually configure it on our obligatory windows machine so when I’m in the basement doing stuff I can watch a movie if I want.

Now, here is the interesting part:

Netflix Watch Instantly is cool, but the Microsoft connection is unpleasant, and it runs on your computer which may very well not be in your living room where you watch TV. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a machine you could stick in there next to your DVD player, hooked to your TV, that would give you Netflix watch instantly movies?

Well, there is such a thing, and it is called Netflix Player.

It’s small and silent, sports an array of ports on the back but only one tiny white LED on the front, and it can help you spend hours of time in front of your TV ….. It’s the Netflix Player from embedded device specialist Roku …

… and it runs Linux. Not windows. Linux.

Here is a review of the product.


  1. #1 Dan McKinley
    August 1, 2008

    I don’t see how this is ironic. The web product targets the browser with the most market share (boo!), the hardware product uses the OS with the most agreeable licensing arrangement (hooray!). Both decisions make complete sense, from the point of view of someone trying to earn a living selling a product. Not ironic.

  2. #2 Stephanie Z
    August 1, 2008

    Dan, I’m not buying that IE is a no-brainer for the browser. It may still have the biggest market share, but most of that is driven by corporate use. Firefox should be approaching the majority of home use by now. And while I can get away with stopping in to comment on a blog occasionally at work, I don’t think I’ll be watching many movies at my desk.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    August 1, 2008

    I do agree with you, Dan, to some extent, … use the software and hardware you need to use …. but as Stephanie says, Firefox is the future and probably the present. Also, being platform free is really the way to go. I mean, windows vs platform free is a big enough difference in market share to matter. If I worked for a company and came up with an idea that would increase use of the product by 10 percent, I’d get promoted to vice president. The person who excluded Mac and other *nix based systems was, as they say, dumb all over.

    Anyway, in my view, ironies can arise from events independent from intentionality.

  4. #4 Dan McKinley
    August 1, 2008

    Where are we getting this “Firefox is the top browser for home use” idea? In the United States? I can’t find any stats to support that. Yes, I’m a tech person and I think this is crazy too, and it’s true that its share is decreasing, but IE is still way ahead of all competitors.

    Do you think Netflix didn’t look at their webserver logs to determine the browser usage patterns of Netflix users before they made a decision on this? You also have to consider support costs, which increase drastically if a large percentage of their potential users have to go to the Firefox website, download Firefox, and install it. There are a few more steps in there for Aunt Flo to screw up and call Netflix about. The people that will bitch about IE are the same people that can get it working without asking questions. Yes, it sucks and it’s unfair that IE is preinstalled and forcibly updated. And I’m sure the engineers at Netflix are all very embarrassed by the situation.

    Yes, you can obviously have unintended irony. I just really don’t see it in “they decided not to increase the price of their product by hundreds of dollars by requiring a Windows Server license for each appliance.”

  5. #5 Stephanie Z
    August 1, 2008

    Dan, the idea that Firefox is close to dominating the home market is based on what I already said. IE still mostly owns the corporate share. I don’t know how much web traffic is driven from work versus home, but I know work is frequently where people who just have to make a quick transaction do that. The commercial sites are the ones that generally drive the stats, having a vested interest in generating the data.

    If you back out IE-dominated work traffic, you’re left with higher Firefox home traffic than the overall stats would show. Combine that with the fact that Firefox dominates the stats of just about every blogger I know, and it looks like ignoring Firefox for content delivery is a bad choice.

    And yes, Netflix has data on usage, but it’s transactional usage rather than content-delivery usage.

  6. #6 Dan McKinley
    August 1, 2008

    I understood what you were claiming (that IE wins because corporations mandate it), I just have never seen statistics that back this up. Yes the IE share will be lower if you only count roadrunner/cox/whatever, but it won’t make enough of a difference for it to be bumped into second place. If you can find real data any please share.

    Remember that Netflix isn’t starting from scratch here, they had a preexisting, successful web business whose demographics may very well have trended farther into Aunt Flo territory than the internet at large. You can complain that Netflix doesn’t support your platform (as a *nix user, I’m with you), but if you’re claiming that they’ve made a foolish business decision in their initial offering then you’re mistaken.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    August 1, 2008


    I’m looking at the stats for my own web site right now . Over half of the users are signing on with firefox. IE does not make 35%.

    The idea that IE has the corporate desktop share is also changing. For example, at The U (Minnesota) a couple of years ago it was assumed that all web based apps would run through IE. This is melting away as people reject certain software BECAUSE it requires IE (such as our course management software … known, ironically, as Vista ) … People are increasingly opting for Moodle over Vista. Our CMS at my college was designed to run only under IE. Someone, somewhere along the line had the brains and the balls to say no, modify that to run on a variety of browsers or we’ll go somewhere else. It now runs under firfox.

    I think that in a year from now we will be IE independent at The U. Maybe.

    IE is not the dominant browser. We need to stop assuming that it is.

  8. #8 Dan McKinley
    August 1, 2008

    Greg, you’re running a science blog. And one with a heavy dose of linux content, at that. I’m looking at the Google Analytics data for my company’s website right now (it’s ranked around #1000 on Alexa) and it’s about 60/30 IE/FF.

  9. #9 Stephanie Z
    August 1, 2008

    Dan, what I’m saying is that there is more than one internet. There is the transactional web, which most commercial sites are part of and which makes up the majority of sites surveyed for browser share data. Then there are the structures in place for exchanging content.

    No, there isn’t data that I can find for browser share on the content sites, but that doesn’t mean that the best business decision is to assume the stats are the same as for the transactional sites. Google sells data. How hard is it to go to them and say you’d like to buy the Blogger and YouTube browser share data for the last three months?

    Of course, I don’t know that Netflix didn’t do that. But Greg’s OS stats aren’t that different than Sb’s:


    And they’re not that different than the stats for my non-science blog (some overlap of readership, but not much that I can determine). My browser stats are consistently around 55%/35% Firefox/IE. Same for other bloggers I know who track their stats. This makes me think that Netflix did not pay attention to the distinction in usage. If they did not, then yes, I think that is a poor business decision.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    August 1, 2008

    Dan: The general Sb stats vs. my blog are different by about one or two percent, typically. If we average (and I know an unweighted average is not correct here, but whatever) the two numbers, they are even, and this is ever changing. I think it is perfectly reasonable to write off IE at this time as dead software.

    What we really have to look out for is the meteoric rise of PS3 as a browser.

  11. #11 Ben Zvan
    August 1, 2008

    Sure, it makes sense to use IE. Everyone should support IE. The stupid part is that they obviously already have Linux-ready code. It would be trivial for them to release a Linux application.

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    August 1, 2008

    IE runs easily on Linux using any of several different wrappers. Who knows why one would want to, but one can.

  13. #13 Dan McKinley
    August 1, 2008

    Right, there is more than one internet. My entire point hinges on the fact that the traffic to scienceblogs, or Stephanie Z’s blog, will be wildly different than (and I dare say utterly irrelevant to discussions concerning) the traffic to a site such as Netflix. You know, a site that the reality-television-consuming public has actually heard of:


    If the contention of either one of you is that “IE is dead software” based on the usage on your own niche websites, well that’s just insanity. No professional web developer thinks this, and we would love it to be true.

    Obviously, the PS3 is going to make this whole conversation look pretty quaint in retrospect.

  14. #14 Dan McKinley
    August 1, 2008

    @Ben Zvan – yes, it later occurred to me that the “irony” was based on the assumption that the hardware product was doing fundamentally the same thing that the browser plugin was doing. But we got derailed on the browser share discussion.

    I didn’t make that assumption at all. They could have wildly different operating parameters and be implemented in very different ways. I mean, one plugs into your television, they’re not the same thing.

    So I don’t think it’s fair to say they “obviously” have linux-ready code and it would be “trivial” to release a *nix browser version based on the fact that the appliance is a linux machine. You’re glossing over many implementation details. (Of course if they’re smart they’ve written the guts of the IE plugin so that it’s portable.)

  15. #15 Stephanie Z
    August 1, 2008

    Dan, I’m saying that when Netflix started offering content in addition to transactions, it became two sites. Assuming their customer profiles for both sites are identical is as silly as assuming that the Netflix content customer profile is the same as my blog reader profile. However, the fact that different people use the internet differently for different things does make the (limited) data on content site usage relevant to the argument that decisions like this (those with the potential to exclude customers) should be based on research that recognizes that there is more than one group of people using the internet.

  16. #16 Dan McKinley
    August 1, 2008

    Well, you still have to buy the physical DVD service, so I don’t think it’s “two sites” just yet. But you might be arguing that they should have done things differently.

    I don’t know where you’re going with this content-delivery/transactional web demarcation. I don’t have access to their stats but I’d bet the farm that Youtube’s usage statistics showed an IE majority just like every other major site on the internet.

    Again, you don’t have any data to support this idea that Firefox is currently ahead in home usage. That is just plain wrong for the big sites. All of the data that is available very sharply contradicts such an assertion.

  17. #17 Stephanie Z
    August 1, 2008

    I don’t have all the data. Nor do I want a farm. I have a few intriguing slivers of data regarding work/home OS usage and transactional/content browser usage. I also know that the site providing the web statistics on the post I linked above lists content providers separately from other data sources, but that content is only 10% of their sample.

    You have exactly the same lack of data about home and content usage I do. Your broad statements and certainty that things are homogeneous across the web are at least as unsupported as my idea that someone should look before making assumptions.

  18. #18 Jeff Knapp
    August 1, 2008

    … and it runs Linux. Not windows. Linux.

    If I were designing a special-purpose computing device such as the Netflix Player, I would think basing it on Linux would be a no-brainer. It is highly configurable, highly customizable, very efficient and compact. This is where Linux really shines – as an engineer’s platform. You build your own custom interface on it, give it exactly the features you need it to have and leave out all of the extra stuff you don’t. Then you make sure it is closed and secure.

    It also has no licensing fees that I am aware of making it much more cost effective.

    It only runs on Windows, and in fact, only runs with the widely despised Internut Explorer browser.

    According to Netflix, this is due to the M$ DRM they use. They claim that the studios and distributors would only approve M$’s DRM technology – which is Windoze only and is tied to EI – for streaming their movies. NF claims that they wish they could offer Mac support but, until there is a DRM solution that the studios will allow that runs on the Mac, their hands are tied. I have no idea if they are being truthful or not but, that ia the story they tell.