Thursday, November 29, 2012

Finally. Netflix on Linux.

A recent post at the "OMG! Ubuntu!" blog broke the news that there is finally a working, straightforward way to watch Netflix on Linux. Skip to installation instructions below or read on for the full story. Oh, and here's a screenshot if you're still incredulous:

For those not so familiar with the story, here's the background. These days you can do almost everything you need to on Linux. But the one gaping hole for those of us who've switched to Linux full-time has been Netflix. The streaming video on requires Microsoft Silverlight (apparently they need its DRM capabilities), and, unsurprisingly, Silverlight is not available on Linux. Last I heard, it wouldn't even run properly in WINE, the Windows emulation/compatibility layer people often use to run Windows apps on Linux. So the only standard way to watch Netflix, and the way I've been using, is to install an entire copy of Windows in a virtual machine. This is pretty clunky and slow, at best. In order to watch Netflix I'd have to start up my virtual machine, a process about as slow as booting a real computer, and often close Firefox to get the 2GB of free RAM it requires.

So naturally there have been pleas for years to get Netflix to finally support Linux. After all, they work on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android already. There have even been a number of false starts, like last year when they announced they would be supporting Chrome OS, which is a version of Linux. It turns out that even though they produced a Chrome plugin that worked on Chrome OS's Linux, no one could get it to work reliably, even moving the plugin files and executables to the proper locations in Chrome installed on a regular Linux OS.

tl;dr: We've been stuck with virtual machines for years.

But apparently two developers, Erich Hoover and David Andrews have put together a well-functioning solution using Firefox and Silverlight installed in a bundled (and improved?) version of WINE. I just watched an entire episode of Archer without so much as a blip of buffering, and this is on a Core 2 Duo 2.53GHz machine with 4GB RAM (with Firefox open!). The developers claim to have even gotten it running on a netbook. One disclaimer of note: this works on Ubuntu running Unity, but I'm not sure if it's supported outside that configuration. So, without further ado:

Here's how to install it on Ubuntu

$ sudo apt-add-repository ppa:ehoover/compholio
$ sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install netflix-desktop

That's it. They've bundled it all into one package in their repository. It installs WINE, Silverlight, and Firefox (the Windows version) automatically. When you first start it up (search "Netflix" in Unity) WINE will do some configuration (say yes to the installation prompts) and the Netflix login page will pop open. (Important note: it's just Firefox full-screen, so hit F11 to exit full-screen mode.)

Further instructions and troubleshooting in the developers' post:
PPA for Netflix Desktop App - iheartubuntu

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