Netflix may soon offer official support for Ubuntu Linux. But does that really matter now that Netflix has unofficially worked on Linux via Wine for nearly two years?
What does it take to get a major seller of cloud-based media to support Linux? Apparently, implementing Linux support on your own, then waiting two years for the vendor to catch up—or so the recent news that Netflix plans official support Linux (or at least Ubuntu) suggests.
It's been almost two years since the valiant efforts of open source hacker Erich Hoover made it possible to run the Netflix client for Windows on Linux using Wine. Soon, that hacked-up solution may no longer be necessary. A Netflix developer recently reported on the Ubuntu mailing list that the software will run seamlessly in the closed source Chrome browser (though not its open source cousin, Chromium) on Ubuntu with just a couple minor changes to the environment, which Ubuntu developers can push out automatically via updates.
No one at Netflix is saying why the company finally decided to make good on the promises it has been making, and not fulfilling, since at least 2011 to bring its cloud-based video streaming to Linux. The decision to discard Microsoft Silverlight as part of the Netflix software stack undoubtedly had much to do with it. But it also seems likely that the open source community's success in implementing Netflix for itself was a factor, too.
In one way, this is positive news for the open source world. It shows that big companies will eventually listen to longstanding demands for official Linux support—if Linux users unofficially build what they want on their own first. On the other hand, Netflix's decision to create a Linux client at this point is a bit disappointing, since all of the effort Linux hackers put in to making Netflix work via Wine could have been better expended elsewhere if Netflix itself had delivered the support a long time ago.
In addition, there are few foreseeable benefits to having a native Netflix client now, because the Wine version already works very well on Linux and is pretty simple to install. Short of making it possible to include packages in the "Canonical Partners" repository, it's not clear what value Netflix is really bringing to the desktop Linux world by duplicating what Hoover and others already did.
Maybe I'm being too harsh on Netflix, though. At least the company didn't visibly try to prevent the Wine-Netflix hack from working over the past two years, or reject any kind of engagement with the open source community. It just took a really long time to do what it said it was going to do in bringing Netflix officially to Linux, and now that it has finally done it, it doesn't matter too much anymore.
But Netflix could be worse. It could be Adobe, for instance, whose major productivity apps generally don't work on Linux. Or it could be Apple and make it a violation of an EULA even to install Linux. Ah, Apple.