Netflix Is Down

Tonight is one of those nights lots of families are staying home. Watching Netflix might be one of those favorite past times in between all the festive activities. The timing couldn’t have been worse for Netflix to go down tonight. Blame it all on AWS, Amazon Web Services, for the spotty web service, stemming from the its Northern Virginia data center. This is the third time AWS has gone down this year.

Microsoft Silverlight Snubs Linux Users

Microsoft Silverlight is a powerful development platform for creating engaging, interactive user experiences for the web, desktop and mobile applications, either while connected online or offline. At least, that’s what Microsoft’s says on its website. Silverlight is a browser plugin people use to view streaming movies, videos, and sporting events, as well as running business applications online. Microsoft touts that Silverlight works on all browsers, from Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and of course, Internet Explorer.

However, Silverlight only works in Windows and in Safari on the Mac OS. It doesn’t work in Linux. There are however, several open-source alternatives, like Moonlight, which mimics Silverlight. But it has come up short. There are still a number of Silverlight-powered websites that are inaccessible from the Linux desktop. Netflix comes to mind. There are also several major sports leagues that use Silverlight exclusively for live streaming. The NFL, MLB, NBA, and the MLS are just a few.

Netflix uses Silverlight because of the DRM or digital rights management issue. Netflix has to some way protect movies from being pirated online, hence the use of Silverlight. Here’s the Netflix message you’ll get if you try to run Netflix on Linux. It doesn’t really say it doesn’t support Linux, but Linux is not on the list.

Microsoft or Netflix has no plans whatsoever to include Linux users into the fold. Micorosoft doesn’t seem bothered that Linux users are being isolated from viewing popular video streaming websites. I don’t see Microsoft or Netflix changing their stance anytime soon. They are certainly not going to throw resources to develop Silverlight for the Linux desktop. It’s really a shame, because I still have to keep an old copy of Windows XP running either in a dual-boot configuration or in a Virtualbox, just for the purpose of accessing Silverlight-powered websites and other programs that work in Windows only.

I won’t hold my breath for this to change anytime soon. Maybe, one of these days Linux developers can come up with a better alternative to Moonlight. Waiting for Microsoft to open up the source code for Silverlight, is a waste of time. In the meantime, you can get a Roku box or a Xbox 360, albeit a Microsoft product, to view Netflix and other websites online.

But, there’s a catch. You also have to fork out an additional $60 a year for Xbox Live, and whatever additional subscription price others have with their services. Microsoft technology is just the opposite of what open-source and Linux stands for. It’s all about money and doesn’t care about standards.  It just doesn’t act in the best interest of all.

The Latest Xbox 360 Update

I was dismantling the Xbox 360 last night since the DVD tray would not open. I tried every trick in the book, but no cigar. I ended up breaking the seal (gulp, don’t tell anyone) and removing the plastic covers. I vacuumed the unit. and poked the hole near the DVD tray with a metal wire to free up the DVD tray. It worked.

I’m not sure if I needed to remove the plastic covers to poke the hole, but since it was already open, I took the opportunity to vacuum the unit. I can’t believe the amount of dust collected over the years. I left the covers off momentarily. It seems to have better ventilation without it. Who would have thought? Maybe, this will fix the red ring of death which I still get ocassionally.

Upon bootup, I was prompted with a message to run an Xbox update. So, I ran the update. After 20 minutes, the update completed. The Xbox rebooted. Lo and behold, the new Xbox 360 interface was right before my eyes. In case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the new XBox 360 interface, courtesy of theRadBrad.

I’m not sure what to think of it yet. What’s with the Bing Search? You can now search the entire Xbox for movies, games, etc, but it’s not for searching the internet. I seem to like the easy access to videos and apps, like Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc. I also noticed viewing Youtube is now possible? I haven’t tried it yet. I’m going to have to play around with it some more before making anymore silly comments.

Playing DVDs on Ubuntu

I recently tried to run a Netflix DVD on my Ubuntu desktop only to see this annoying little message, “Could not read DVD. This may be because the DVD is encrypted and a DVD decryption library is not installed.” What’s going on? I already installed “ubuntu restricted extras, libdvdread2 and libdvdread4.” Why is it still not working?

Here are 3 little steps to get the Netflix DVD’s to play on my Ubuntu desktop. I included the installs for “ubuntu restricted extras” and “libdvdread4” just to be absolutely sure the steps work in all versions of Ubuntu.

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras
sudo apt-get install libdvdread4
sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/install-css.sh

The last step of running the install is the most crucial. Well, enjoy the movies.

Netflix Introduces Qwikster

I just received an email from Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix. Reed initially apologizes for the confusion the last few weeks regarding Netflix’s subscription pricing hike and explains the reasoning behind the increase. He also explains the emerging separate businesses of streaming and DVD. Reed later introduces a new name to  DVD business called Qwikster. Here’s an excerpt of the email.

So we realized that streaming and DVD by mail are really becoming two different businesses, with very different cost structures, that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently.

It’s hard to write this after over 10 years of mailing DVDs with pride, but we think it is necessary: In a few weeks, we will rename our DVD by mail service to “Qwikster”. We chose the name Qwikster because it refers to quick delivery. We will keep the name “Netflix” for streaming.

Qwikster will be the same website and DVD service that everyone is used to. It is just a new name, and DVD members will go to qwikster.com to access their DVD queues and choose movies. One improvement we will make at launch is to add a video games upgrade option, similar to our upgrade option for Blu-ray, for those who want to rent Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 games. Members have been asking for video games for many years, but now that DVD by mail has its own team, we are finally getting it done. Other improvements will follow. A negative of the renaming and separation is that the Qwikster.com and Netflix.com websites will not be integrated.

You can read the post from Netflix’ blog. You can place comments there as well.

Movies at Walmart.com

You can now watch movies at Walmart.com on the very same day when the DVD comes out. Wal-Mart bought Vudu.com eighteen months ago and is now poised to serve over 20,000 movie titles online. ABC.com breaks down the price structure like this:

Movies are available at Walmart.com to rent for $1 to $5.99 or to purchase for $4.99 and up. Wal-Mart is not offering subscriptions, making its service more similar to Apple Inc.’s iTunes, which charges $3.99 to rent newly released movies and $14.99 to buy a movie.

In addition to Netflix, another competitor streaming movies and TV shows by subscription is Hulu.com, which now offers a premium service for $7.99 a month with more back-season shows and more movies. Without a subscription, Hulu viewers can watch shows and movies free in exchange for watching advertising.

The online streaming companies, Apple, Netflix and Hulu, now have legitimate competition from Wal-Mart. And it’s cheaper.

Netflix To Increase Price

Netflix customers are up in arms about the recent price increase. I currently pay $10 a month for DVDs, as well as access to the online streaming service. I like to have both, but Netflix wants to increase it to $16 to cover the cost of its DVD business. Remember, Netflix started out as a DVD mail-in business.

I would consider dropping the DVD service, and subscribe to the online streaming service only. But, there’s a problem. Not all titles are available for streaming. I think many customers would choose streaming if the titles were available. Since they are not, customers feel like they are being screwed by Netflix.

If there was ever a lesson in keeping your customers happy, this was it. Netflix should have listened to its customers. I suspect many loyal Netflix customers will cancel their subscription including myself. I don’t know how Netflix could justify a 60% increase in price, especially in this economy.

And, what’s the point of having Netflix with only half a service.

Courting Blockbuster

Several companies are interested in buying Blockbuster, who filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy a few months ago. Dish Network, Cobalt Video, Carl Icahn and SK Telecom Co, who by the way, already dropped out of the running. Looking at this short list, it sounds like Blockbuster is worth the gamble, but it really isn’t, in my humble opinion. What would you do with Blockbuster anyways? Compete with Netflix? Might be better to just liquidate it. A few liquidating companies were considering. More power to whoever ends up with Blockbuster. As much as I love Netflix, it can use a little competition. Maybe, Hulu or even a third option will emerge sometime in the future. This is an excellent example of a old business model that became instinct in a hurry. Blockbuster just failed to cope up with new technology. So, the question is, would you buy Blockbuster? Or are you just courting for disaster.

Netflix Takes Half Of My Bandwidth

I was watching videos on Youtube last night, and I noticed that my connection was slow. Really slow. My download speed just couldn’t keep up with the Youtube videos at 360p. We are not even talking HD quality here. I was scratching my head as to why my connection was slow. As it turned out, Netflix was taking half of my bandwidth.

I don’t have the fastest connection to begin with. I have an AT&T’s DSL Elite Pro touted at 6 mb per second. When I perform DSL speed tests from SpeakEasy, my top speed is almost always 5 mbps. I’ve never seen it go past 5. Unfortunately, my neighborhood does not support U-verse. So, I’m stuck with DSL. Cable is not an option for me, but that’s another story.

So, when I had some trouble today, I noticed that my bandwidth dropped to 2.5 mbps. I realized someone watching Netflix on the XBox 360 downstairs. This the sole reason why the Youtube videos would crawl at certain times of the day. Based on what I read online, it basically confirms this:

the average encoding rate for video streamed to the Xbox 360 is about 2000Kbps. That means one person watching a two hour movie would transfer roughly 1.8GB of data. For high definition movies, the average encoding bitrate is around 3200Kbps and one user would transfer about 3GB of data.

This makes a whole lot of sense. They are saying that Netflix will take up about 2 mbps. In my case, Netflix was using 2.5 mbps of my bandwidth to stream movies. That leaves me with the other 2.5 mbps for browsing, email, etc. It doesn’t give me a lot of room to run Netflix and Youtube at the same time.

Netflix: Unlimited Movies and DVDs for $10

The other day, I received an important note from Netflix, stating that my monthly subscription has increased by $1. The monthly will jump from $8.99 to $9.99. For an additional $1 dollar, Netflix will now show unlimited movies and TV episodes on my computer, as well as unlimited DVDs by mail. I bolded the words unlimited in case you haven’t noticed. It’s actually a great deal.

Here’s the actual note from Netflix:

Why the changes? Our selection of TV episodes and movies available to stream has grown dramatically, and as a result most members want us to deliver unlimited movies and TV episodes two ways: streaming instantly over the internet plus DVDs by mail. The price change will allow us to continue to offer the popular plan choice of unlimited TV episodes and movies streaming instantly along with unlimited DVDs. The new plan, which does not include DVDs, is a great option for the increasing number of members who only want to watch instantly.

In addition, Netflix is also offering unlimited TV episodes and movies online for just $7.99. This plan does not include unlimited DVDs by mail.

I saw a little disclaimer saying:

All the titles you can watch instantly on your current plan are also available on this new plan, and as a reminder, not all titles on DVD are available to watch instantly.

In any case, for $9.99, this plan is a great. Just to be sure, I logged in to Netflix’s website, and saw that all movies seem to be available for online play, and that includes the most recent films. There’s one more thing on my wish list. I just wished Netflix will play on my Linux desktop. I can watch Netflix on the Xbox 360, a Windows XP desktop, my Windows XP netbook, but not on my Linux desktop. Bummer.