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?
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.
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.