Running Netflix on Linux

Do you have a Roku with which you watch Netflix? Do you watch Netflix on a Mac? If so, you are using either the Linux operating system or a closely related “*Nix” operating system. (Mac’s run on a form of OS that is the same basic system as Linux*)


However, if you run Linux on a regular computer, you can’t watch Netflix videos, as you can with Windows or a Mac. Why? My understanding is that the the people who own and operate Netflix, bless their pointy heads, think that if they released a Linux version of Netflix, Linux “hackers” would break through the DRM protection schemes and everyone would be able to watch Netflix for free.

As Shawn Powers has pointed out a number of times, they’ve got that backwards. In reality, if Netflix continues to diss the Linux Community, there is no telling what will happen. Eventually, Linux “hackers” will figure out how to show Netflix on their own computers. When that happens, this will mean that Linux-using Netflix subscribers will be able to watch what they are paying for on their own desktop and laptop computers like Windows users can. But it might also mean that Linux users will be able to easily install a Netflix Watcher that may not bother with little details like whether or not the service is paid for. In other words, it might be possible some day for Linux users to type:

sudo apt-get WatchNetflixForFree

and in a few moments have an app installed on their computer that will simply drain Netflix of all it’s DRM’ed bits and bytes. For free. Out of revenge. For being dissed.

I don’t know which of these scenarios is going to happen, but it may be the case that an important step is happening in this direction. (Hat Tip Mike)

There is now a project to raise funds to pay a bounty for a functioning Netflix application for Linux. The rules require that the application be legal. That is good. I hope it is created and I hope it is legal. But, you know as well as I do that movement in the direction of making a legal Linux based Netflix streaming application will result in the development of technology that could be used illegally, to just plain take what is currently owned by Netflix.

And, given the way that computer systems operate, it would be fairly easy, I think, to install the necessary software on any Windows machine to run the “Steal the Netflix Bits and Bytes” app and run it. Minimally, one would simply run a key disk or CD based copy of Linux and watch movies for free on any computer, but it would probably be even easier than that.,

I would personally oppose that and I would never use it. I do not subscribe to the idea that if you can easily steal something (like movies or musi), that stealing that thing is therefore ethical, perhaps even morally required. Napster was a low point in the history of personal computer technology, in my opinion. But I’m just one person. The “WatchNetflixForNothin” app is probably possible, and a combination of Netflix misreading the Linux Community and the simple fact that this is both insulting and potentially “fixable” may result in free movies for all who care to type that line I cite above, or something like it being a reality.

I assume Netflix will soon come to understand the error of its corporate ways, and produce a Linux Netflix Application.

In the meantime, you have the option of applying the pressure. Check it out: Netflix on Linux Contest.

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*Please do not bother impressing us with your detailed knowledge of how Linux and the system the Mac runs on top of are different. They are more similar than any two randomly chosen (repeated sampling) operating systems running computer-run devices, and are widely considered to be in the same family of operating systems.

Comments

  1. #1 Mike Haubrich
    March 11, 2012

    I have an e-book biography of Richard Stallman (free for download, copyleft, etc) that I would love to send to the Execs at Netflix to help them understand how “Free as in Freedom, not Free as in Free Beer” helps make friends in the development community and leads to the growth in profit while maintaining support in the development community.

    Not that I am a developer, I just like what they do.

  2. #2 cfeagans
    March 12, 2012

    I thought the Linux embargo by Netflix was probably due to a deal they have with Microsoft and Silverlight. Also, the Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, is on the board of directors for Microsoft -at least he was.

    Clearly the Silverlight restriction isn’t a hard and fast one. Even though it’s leaned on heavily with Windows apps, it isn’t with Android, Roku, and Google OS.

    I used to have a television with a set of output jacks that would allow me to record anything it could see on a VHS tape. I can’t imagine such televisions aren’t still available. The quality probably isn’t that good, but neither are Netflix streams when you get right down to it -that’s the reason they stream so well. So I’m a little skeptical of the hacking excuse. I think it’s really more to do with Microsoft’s distaste for Linux and the tremendous strides distributions like Ubuntu have made over the last few years in creating an OS that is more stable, more friendly, and easier to use and maintain than Windows.

  3. #3 MikeC
    March 12, 2012

    Be careful which pointy heads you bless – some of them are Microsoft. Netflix streaming is a partnership between Netflix and Microsoft, with MS providing Silverlight for the player and DRM. I doubt Netflix is in a position to look at the linux community without the lawsuit equivalent of a headshot from Microsoft at this point.

    I don’t have the chops to know whether the linux community could make an end run around the DRM (Silverlight itself was addressed by Moonlight/Mono), but I think MS would tool up and rewrite the Playready DRM in response, and then the arms race would be on.

    But by then, almost all of Netflix’s old licensing deals will have run out. And the new licensing deals Big Content signs are much, much, much more stingy. A year or two from now Netflix streaming may have shrunk so much that no matter which OS is serving it up, it just isn’t worth it anymore. Some people have said that’s already happened.

    Which brings up the service that does work with linux: Hulu.

    The only way Hulu could get the rights to stream a lot of Hulu (free) and even some Hulu+ content was with licensing terms that basically say: “No one hooks their computer up to their TV, right?”. Hulu(free) was built on the conceit that people just watch it on their laptops. As more people port it to their TVs like Netflix streaming, the more the networks will limit the content they give to it. Hulu+, half of it anyway, is the stuff that Big Content is willing to allow to be piped to your TV. The other half isn’t available unless you are streaming through a pc, even though you are paying for it.

    A result of that is that none of the smart boxes or game consoles allow Hulu (free); they are only licensed to run Hulu+. OrbTV comes closest, but it is actually a passthrough for a PC that actually runs Hulu. You provide the PC, and the wireless bandwidth to hook it up to the Orb. There are subscription services like Playon, but then you have another monthly bill.

    So say you just want a cheap little box to stream Hulu(free) and Netflix to your TV. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask. You can get Netflix through a bunch of different consoles, phones, boxees, PCs, whatever. You can get Hulu (free) on the cheapest open source computer you can build/buy that is fast enough to decode the stream.

    But the only way to get both:

    -a Windows or OS-X PC.

    groan.

    PS: Please, please tell me I’m wrong: I’d love to ditch the PC hiding behind the entertainment center!

  4. #4 Lassi Hippeläinen
    March 12, 2012

    There is an Android app for Netflix. And you can run Android apps on Linux using the emulator inside the Android SDK. That may be slow, though.

    There have been projects to implement a native Dalvik engine in Linux, but I’m not sure what their status is just now. And there is the Alien Dalvik by Myriad for other gadgets like TVs and iPad.

  5. #5 Donovan Acree
    March 12, 2012

    Here is the simple reason Netflix will never be made available for Linux
    From netflix:
    Chief Executive Officer, President, Chairman of the Board
    Reed Hastings has served as our Chief Executive Officer since September 1998 and our Chairman of the Board since inception. (…) Mr. Hastings currently serves as a member of the board of directors of Microsoft.

  6. #6 lewax00
    March 12, 2012

    Or maybe its just that they looked into it, and discovered there isn’t a big enough market to justify the development costs. I seriously doubt their security is as loose as you seem to think, and there’s not likely some conspiracy to keep out Linux users. It’s the same reason many other platforms don’t support Linux.

  7. #7 ItPutsTheLotionOnItsSkin
    March 14, 2012

    “I seriously doubt their security is as loose as you seem to think”

    Oh, yes it is. Remember, all a computer does is handle 1’s and 0’s. It takes time, yes. But if its in a digital format of any kind, it can be reverse engineered if you know exactly what you are doing.

    Just like pandora was;
    http://paintsquirrel.ucs.indiana.edu/pdf/Pandora.pdf

  8. #8 Jim Westover
    March 28, 2012

    Simple fact: Linux does DRM.

    I’ve run Linux for 15 years. I don’t even own a copy of windows on my main machine. I pay for streamed content regularily at Amazon. Works great. I get good value and some fairly good content. I have used HULU plus but there is just not much content there.

    But …… if the rest of these industry players and huge corps continue to lock out Linux, we should target DRM and every single pay service that uses it. It’s way past time to stop these fubar robber barons from controlling computing and the ‘net.

  9. #9 Mike Haubrich
    April 1, 2012

    Some of the Chrome Apps don’t work on Linux, and in the reviews Linux users pointed out this oversight. The response from Windows users was “Grow up and get a real operating system.”

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    April 1, 2012

    Windows users are babies.

  11. #11 John Brown
    April 3, 2012

    “Windows users are babies.”

    A-freakin-MEN!! For anyone who would say that about Linux, an OS that assumes you know nothing about your computer is not more “real”, it’s just accurate. I cringe when I hear people praise an OS only because of its simple UI. It’s like saying this pacifier is more a pacifier than a tall glass of water is. Ahhh, true…

    Linux is not what it was 5 years ago either, the UI is not as esoteric as some people still think. You just might have to actually understand what a computer actually is to get it set up the way you want.

    The fact is, not porting to Linux has to be a conspiracy. If you program at all, you understand that the part of the code that does the actual work and makes decisions won’t change no matter what OS you compile it for. The only things that will change are the libraries for the API and the API calls to whatever devices or UI elements that are being used. If you already have the guts of the code that define how to process the data(at least 80% of the code), and you don’t write spaghetti code, then the “cost” of porting to a different OS is no worse than it was when they did the same thing for Mac. Same difference.

    The CEO of Netflix being on the board at Microsoft is so unethical and wrong I don’t want to even get started on it. But, we can only blame our “economy” for that ingenuity. Thank you capitalism for being decades late and compromised. Nice management of resources in making software vendors favor the most expensive and resource intensive OSes first. FAIL.

    Even if the crap about the small number of Linux users is half right, you are still talking about at least a million potential users that are actively growing in size. Multiply that by at least $7.99/month and it sounds like significant revenue potential to me. Yay, even a horizontal expansion of your market. I’m sure you can afford a Linux/POSIX programmer or two with only 10% of that market ($800,000/month).

    Plus, if it were all about money then why has Microsoft taken a huge risk in re-writing Window 7 for touch and calling it Windows 8? Is there even a market for that yet? Why did Apple sell iPhones, iPods, and iPads at a loss and become revolutionary (which created the market Window 8 is trying to jump into). It’s not all about the money, clearly. Companies take bigger risks all the time. It’s a clear slight to Linux.

    What’s really funny about it all is that Netflix doesn’t even have to write the code. All they would have to do is release the source code for the guts of the player (the part that’s OS agnostic), the part doing the actual work. If they opened an open source development initiative, I’m sure some capable Linux programmers would jump on it.

    The hitch in it all is shortsightedness of DRM and the inevitable obsolescence of copyright law, not the number of Linux users. So all in all: It’s time to evolve from the catch all “there aren’t many Linux users” and come up with the next excuse.

  12. #12 adrian
    April 17, 2012

    I find it funny(not really) that you can run netflix from a bluray/dvd player an Android phone, Nintendo Wii, Roku, they are running instances of a different flavor of linux. Android is still related to linux the software on the smart tvs and bluray/dvd players with apps on them are also running a derivative of Linux. Even Google chrome (chromebooks atleast) can run netflix with a plugin for the Chrome browser. What can they possibly be afraid of? That desktop Linux users will run a plugin on their Mozilla browser for a paid subscription of Netflix on an open source operating system that is able to identify the end user?? I mean all they did with the smart tvs in order for them to run the Netflix app was enter a registration code… can’t they do that for Desktop/laptop versions of Linux? So then answer me this… how did they get around all the DRM issues on all the above mentioned items that run Neflix apps on a Linux related OS….

  13. #13 Greg Bulmash
    April 26, 2012

    I called Netflix about this a couple of months ago. The CSR said they’re tracking requests for a Linux version and that the best thing I can do is tell every Netflix customer I know to call in and ask for a Linux client. The issue is not an ideological war on Linux. It’s identifying enough customer demand.

    Call Netflix, be nice, and say you want to be added to the tally of customers asking for a Linux client.

  14. #14 bob
    May 7, 2012

    “Mac’s run on a form of OS that…”

    Macs. It’s a plural so no apostrophe.

  15. #15 Nick
    May 9, 2012

    Everyone, it’s not a conspiracy. Why would MS stick it to Linux? If MS is going to “allow” Macs to run Netflix, then the same can be done for Linux with minor adjustments to code. MS is not threatened by Linux and its 1% share of the market. It’s just about Netflix not wanting to take the time to port it because there isn’t a substantial amount of money in the short-term to be earned by doing it. Netflix’s stock TANKED after the DVD fiasco, so extra cash-flow and a few new subscribers surely can’t be a bad thing.

  16. #16 Brad Moss
    May 17, 2012

    It blows my mind that they do the DRM lock down on streams when THEY WILL SEND YOU A DVD of the show, which anyone that’s one step above a functioning moron can rip.

  17. #17 Travis Clos
    May 19, 2012

    Lol. This article is first of all ridiculous. Netflix does not run on linux for one simple reason. Silverlight does not run on linux. There used to be several hacks one could run to get silverlight working on old PowerPC macs but that’s as far as I ever got. It did run silverlight but would not run netflix. As for linux. No such luck. As for the notion of “freenetflixwhatevertheft” bullsh** you were ranting about… I say nay to you sir:

    I have a netflix account which I must sign in to access netflix. This would not be different on linux, and if this were hackable; then they would be doing it already on windows (believe me the hackers ALL use windows as well, it’s the primary target). Further, any linux user with an ounce of skill can run windows in a virtual machine and use it that way.

    There’s even an opensource implementation of silverlight called moonlight (http://www.mono-project.com/Moonlight) but it lacks DRM support as Microsoft would have to help with that directly. lol… “Steal the netflix bits and bytes” app… clearly you know little of the subject. Anybody who want’s to steal that can easily do so, no need for a clever app.

  18. #18 Emilia
    May 19, 2012

    Way to miss the point at so many different levels, Travis!

  19. #19 Kevin
    June 21, 2012

    Bit late to the party here, but Travis isn’t missing the point, he’s just pointing out that the original author has misrepresented the technical reasons for Netflix not being available on Linux. A desktop Linux Netflix client would NOT allow free access to Netflix content any more than the Linux Netflix client already running on my Android phone.

    To stream from Netflix, regardless of platform, you must provide valid login credentials to the Netflix servers. You have to pay for the service (or steal someone’s password.) This is the same with Amazon Instant Video, which works on LInux because it uses Flash rather than Silverlight. Is there an AmazonVideoForFree app? No.

    The issue is DRM. DRM means encrypting the video stream so that only authorized users and/or devices (i.e. iPod) can decrypt and view the content, and the content provider gets to decide if you’re authorized (licensed) to do this. But unless there’s a hardware layer involved that prevents the software layer from intercepting the decrypted video stream before it reaches your screen, there’s nothing stopping a clever person from capturing that decrypted stream to his computer and giving it to all his friends. You don’t need Linux for this, you can do this on Windows or any other platform. (Note that Blu-ray requires such a hardware layer, but clever persons have found a way of obtaining the “super-secret” keys to bypass this on virtually any Blu-ray disc.)

    Amazon also uses DRM (for their videos but not music), they just do it with Flash instead of Silverlight. Microsoft has so far chosen not to make Silverlight DRM available on Linux. Microsoft is to blame for this choice, and Netflix is to blame for choosing Silverlight and Microsoft’s PlayReady DRM mechanism for their streaming service, thereby excluding Linux without Microsoft’s participation. But ultimately both are at the mercy of the MPAA and RIAA, who continue to cling to an outdated business model and fear change. They know DRM doesn’t really work, but they’re too entrenched to admit they were wrong.

    And Linux, well… Linux is free in both senses of the word, and that word scares the content industry to death.

  20. #20 Dain
    July 9, 2012

    Thanks, Travis. You said almost exactly what I wanted to say. You are most certainly not missing the point. The author of this article is just blithering about things he really seems to lack any real knowledge of.

    A few addenda:

    The DRM is to prevent people from directly stealing the videos that they stream, not prevent unauthorized access. Same reason Hulu implements DRM.

    Microsoft actually has given some limited support to the Moonlight project in the form of codec packs (in binary blob form, I believe) and possibly another area I’m forgetting. But they steadfastly refuse to share the binary capable of dealing with their DRM, likely because they do fear that people would try to crack it. (I could envision this potentially being slightly easier if given just the binary which does the DRM as a modular component…perhaps….but perhaps not.)

    Regardless, both these fears are rather misplaced by the entertainment industry. If I really wanted to steal a movie or TV show…I wouldn’t be paying for Netflix. I would go to Google and type, “[TV/MOVIE NAME] torrent”, then have at it.

    The DRM hasn’t made it harder for anyone to pirate anything. It hasn’t discouraged anyone. It’s just made it harder for the legitimate customers to view the content they’ve payed for in the manner of their choice.

    (Don’t even get me started on Blu-Rays and DRM…if you’re a Linux user and you want to watch a Blu-Ray disc you have purchased, it is actually easier and more reliable to rip the movie, then play the resultant full quality mkv than it is to actually just play the Blu-Ray disc using any open source player. Smart move, content distributors!)

  21. #21 Greg Laden
    July 10, 2012

    Bit late to the party here, but Travis isn’t missing the point, he’s just pointing out that the original author has misrepresented the technical reasons for Netflix not being available on Linux. A desktop Linux Netflix client would NOT allow free access to Netflix content any more than the Linux Netflix client already running on my Android phone.

    I’m not sure who you mean by “original author” here but no one has said that it would. The suggestion by Shawn Powers is that Netflix incorrectly thought that it might be the case, but that they would be wrong. Very different.

  22. #22 Cainram
    July 10, 2012

    I didn’t read all of the comments so I may be repeating something already covered.
    Netflix has been running on linux for years.
    The Roku box uses the Linux Kernel. Netflix works on Roku.
    Android uses the Linux Kernel. Netflix works on Android.
    This is not something that Netflix refuses to do because it is difficult or causes DRM issues, etc. – they just WON’T allow Linux distributions to stream Netflix. So screw ‘em. Cancel.

Current ye@r *