Why Doesn’t Netflix Work on Linux?

This week, I decided to take my streaming server back to the Linux world by installing the latest version of Linux Mint on it. This server sits to the left of my computer desk and was purchased to do nothing more than stream video content to Ustream or Justin.TV. It does this job very well, though occasionally I like to throw Netflix or some other video streaming service on it as sort of a background television.

Unfortunately, it appears that Netflix has decided to purposely avoid supporting Linux. Not only does Netflix not support Linux users, but the DRM and Silverlight modules used to access the data are completely broken on the platform. Even using a Windows emulator such as Wine doesn’t work as Silverlight has not operated properly on Wine since version 2.0. Is Microsoft to blame? Is Netflix to blame?

Why Doesn't Netflix Work on Linux?

After doing a little research, I discovered that even Moonlight (the open source equivalent to Silverlight) is unable to communicate with Netflix’s DRM system to deliver this video content to subscribers who rely on a Linux-based desktop environment.

This restriction doesn’t extend to all Linux systems, however. Android continues to work very well with Netflix. The Roku player (also a Linux-based media player) has built-in support for Netflix. It would appear that only desktop Linux distros are kept out of the Netflix realm of influence at the present time.

There are a few theories out there, and thus far Netflix’s only public comments have been that DRM (Digital Rights Management) is the key feature of the platform and any Silverlight alternative that does not implement it to its content contributors’ standards just won’t work.

For now, Microsoft is not releasing a version of Silverlight for Linux desktops that supports DRM. Wine, even though it is capable of running some editions of Silverlight, is yet unable to support DRM-limited streams.

The fear may be that, if Linux users gain access to Netflix, then all the DRM-protected content will somehow be immediately stripped of its protections and made available to the general public for free. Really? As if the Linux community isn’t already capable of using torrent clients or developing a workout of its own to get around the problem.

Frankly, the biggest drawback to Linux is its lack of consumer market share. If there aren’t enough people using a platform, companies like Microsoft and Netflix will do little to push the time and expense it takes to create the software to support it.

The Workaround

There is one way I’ve found to get access to Netflix from Linux Mint. It involves using a virtual PC (I recommend VirtualBox by Oracle) with Windows XP (or some other Windows edition) and accessing it through there. Wine doesn’t work for me, and it apparently doesn’t work for many other users who have tried it.

For right now, Netflix just doesn’t have any support for Linux beyond the controlled environments of Android, Roku, and other media-capable devices that happen to have a Linux kernel.

What about you? Have you experienced this same frustration? Do you know of a legal workaround that can give you access to your Netflix subscription on a desktop Linux distro? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

18 comments On Why Doesn’t Netflix Work on Linux?

  • virtual box sure would be great alternative to boot in windows and consume content on netflix, lets just hope moonlight fix this issue.

  • I tried to run Netflix on Linux a few months ago. Ran into the same issues you did. I’m on Mint 13 Maya as I post this. I shrug at the idea of DRM fear being the reason they don’t support Linux, because there are hackers on windows or mac who could do just as much harm by decompiling or collecting packets or whatever it is they do. Not even pretending I understand the background work there. I love Linux though, and it’s sad I can’t use a service I pay for on it. If there is a way to emulate Android OS under Linux, perhaps that may work. I haven’t checked though.

  • Microsoft really needs to do some development for linux based oses cause I’m a linux user but I didn’t know the roku box was a linux platform that’s awesome to know 🙂

  • As far as I know, there is not ever going to be a ‘fix’ for this. When Silverlight is abandoned, we should have access again.
    I dropped Netflix for this reason. I guess that’s my workaround. I have a HuluPlus subscription and Amazon VOD, in addition to whatever other sources are out there….

  • S. LeBeau Kpadenou

    I too run Mint 13, and the VirtualBox trick is the only way I’ve gotten Netflix to play on X86 Linux. Netflix’s party line of fear of DRM stripping is a backhanded complement to users of all stripes (“Linux users are all thieves who are smarter than our DRM technology. Windows and Mac users are honest, and to dumb to figure it out anyway.”)
    Recently, we decided we had to get rid of some services to save some money. HBO/HBO Go and Showtime/Showtime Anytime are still around at my house because they play nice with our desktops and laptops. I don’t miss Netflix (yet?)

  • I used to have a netflix account but I never used it because I couldn’t run Netflix on my Linux computer. So, I ended my Netflix subscription a couple of months ago. I use Hulu Plus and Amazon Video now. If Netflix decides to develop something that’s Linux based, I might give Netflix another go. For now, I use Amazon’s video service.

  • Netflix should fix this since they advertise that you can watch it from anywhere, and i dont know why they wouldnt since it not much of a problem to do unless there is something we dont know. AREA 51 !!!!!! Lol

  • CATFACE T-SHIRT

    Silverlight is a deprecated technology. Those who hitched their wagon to it are now looking at eating development ROI

  • its the silverlight drm which is awful

  • I don’t know of any work arounds for it. I have a Netflix account but I watch it online. I wish I could be more insightful.

  • Funny chromebooks run it, chrome OS is essentially Ubuntu stripped naked…

  • We’ll see, Netflix is about to be used in Sweden now.

  • Netflix worked fine on Linux before switching to Silverlight. People were also downloading full streams before Silverlight. The problem I find is by choosing Silverlight as the DRM platform to solve the illegal download problem, they put the media control squarely in the hands of Microsoft, who has no intentions of developing anything for use by the general public on desktop Linux.

    The workaround is to use a VM, such as Virtualbox or the Android SDK (requires some manual setup to get marketplace/play running), or just be content with your game console.

  • I was just trying to use Netflix on my Ubuntu 12.04 computer. I was disappointed to find out that I can’t use it. It sucks, but hopefully sometime within the future they will take Linux seriously, and let us watch Netflix on there. Til then, I will have to use my Windows machine, or just my Nexus 7 Tablet.

  • Zsolt Palatinus

    I ended my Netflix account as soon as I realized that they purposefully leave out the Linux community.

  • Yesterday, developer and programmer extraordinaire Erich Hoover and iheartubuntu
    spent several hours working out all of the Netflix Desktop kinks. Most
    users will have no problems with installation now.

    Here is how to install the Netflix Desktop App on Ubuntu. Open a terminal and run these commands:

    sudo apt-add-repository ppa:ehoover/compholio

    sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install netflix-desktop

    Once installed, go up to the top left of your screen and open your Unity
    dash and search for Netflix and run the app. It will load up everything
    needed on the first run. After logging into your Netflix account and
    selecting a video to play, Silverlight should ask you to enable DRM
    content. Please enable. Netflix movies should work fine now 🙂 Congrats!

    The Netflix app starts in full screen mode.
    You can exit out of the app completely by pressing ALT+F4. You can also
    press F11 to exit out of full screen mode.

  • I tried to run Netflix on Debian Testing, but despite the fact that Microsoft has abandoned Silverlight, Netflix apparently hasn’t. Fortunately for me, I run ChromeOS, the other major Linux distro supporting Netflix, and tried to do that with crouton.

  • There is now a Netflix app in the Ubuntu Software Center and it works fine on my Ubuntu 12.04.

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