netflix-desktop – Netflix on Linux (& Much More!)

I use Ubuntu on my Linux desktop and for the most part I’m reasonably happy with it. Mostly I run a browser, (Chrome or Firefox) a text editor, an IRC client, and an IM client on it. I hit very few situations where that’s not enough. One key sticking point is running Netflix on Linux browsers, however. Netflix currently requires Microsoft’s Silverlight plugin, which is (as you might expect) Windows only. However, it’s possible to run Netflix on Linux, and with a bit of quick hacking, you can run practically any Windows-specific site on Linux with no issues.

Installing netflix-desktop

The key to running Netflix on Linux is a package created by Erich Hoover called netflix-desktop. The netflix-desktop package is pretty easy to install on Ubuntu and Ubuntu derivatives:

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

Note: I will point out that installing PPA’s isn’t completely risk-free. Packages in PPAs are not always generated by or supported by the official package maintainers for Ubuntu. However, so far I’ve found this one to be safe, and I’ve seen many other people running it without issues. Dig around and do research for yourself if you’re so inclined, though.

Once netflix-desktop is installed, you can run it to create a .wine-browser folder in your home directory.

The Limitations of netflix-desktop

The netflix-desktop package essentially runs the Windows version of Firefox, plus some Windows plugins, (ie, Silverlight) in a Wine session. This means that any Silverlight site will run as if it was under Windows when run in this version of Firefox.

The problem with the package is that it’s very targeted towards Netflix, and Netflix only. There may be other sites that use Silverlight or have other Windows hooks that you’d like to run using this package.

Also, it only runs full screen. I have a severely underpowered Ubuntu machine, so trying to run full-screen video takes the frame rate down to the point of it being unwatchable. You might also want to run other programs while having Netflix play in a window off to the side of your Ubuntu desktop.

If that’s the case, here are some ways to hack Netflix Desktop for Ubuntu.

Restoring netflix-desktop Defaults

Before we begin, I’ll point out that if you get stuck and you’ve broken your install, you can go back to the “stock” configuration for netflix-desktop. Just close the program and then:

cd ~
rm -Rf .wine-browser

This completely erases your Netflix Desktop configuration, and the next time you run the program it will start as if it was the first time by re-copying the default configuration files to your home directory.

Jailbreaking Netflix Desktop

The Netflix Desktop app starts in full-screen mode, with all menus hidden. The usual F11 keyboard shortcut to toggle Firefox fullscreen doesn’t work. However, you can use Ctrl-L to open the “Location” popup and navigate to a new site.

If you open the URL in a new tab, the tab bar will be visible. It will auto-hide by default, but you can get it back by moving your mouse to the very top of the Firefox window.

Right clicking on empty space in the tab bar gives you some useful options, like showing the full Firefox menus, or exiting full screen mode. If you exit full screen mode, you’ll be able to change the dimensions of the window however you please.

Advanced Location Hacking

You might want to keep the full-screen features of Netflix Desktop, but still change some of the settings in Firefox. Now that you know to use Ctrl-L to open the locations popup, there are several built-in “locations” that can be quite useful.

For instance, if you type about:config in this box, you can get into the advanced configuration options view for Firefox. If you’d like to keep the tab bar from hiding itself, search for browser.tabs.autoHide and double-click it to set it to false. The tab bar will now stay at the top of the screen even if you’ve got just one tab open or you’re not paying attention to the tab bar.

Another useful location is about:addons which will take you to the add-ons and extensions menu. Here, you can disable the extension which adds that big white “X” close button in the upper right if it bugs you.

Conclusion

The netflix-desktop package brings Windows-only browser based functionality to your Ubuntu desktop. Although it’s designed to be simple to use, with a bit of know-how you can break it free of its constraints and use it to its fullest potential.