Saturday, March 24, 2012

Life without Netflix, streaming on Linux can be awesome!

    For all the hype around Netflix it is easy for us Linux users to forget there are alternatives. Its not that Netflix is (debateably) the best, but rather its the most widely used that causes us to neglect the numerous options that are actually available to us. In this article I want to present some of those alternatives, and how they hold up against Netflix. One caveat however is that I cannot fairly compare the variety and quality of the programming selections of each service seeing as the former is too large to parse, and the latter is inherently subjective.

    First off, when we are talking about Netflix we should consider why it is that it is so dominant. The opinions will vary, but I'll present my analysis. Hands down, Netflix has the largest selection of streaming movies, but that is where its superiority ends. Though there are many services, most are either too narrow, too expensive, or lack content; thus I will not cover them since we are looking for a replacement to Netflix, and the source of its strength boils down to content and price.

    Hulu (esp. with its Plus subscription) absolutely dominates over Netflix in terms of selection for television programming. A nice addition that I appreciate is its Hulu Desktop application. Not all content available on its website is yet available for its desktop application, however it is elegant and works well. Best of all, Hulu Desktop has a native Linux version distributed in .rpm and .deb! The .rpm works well on openSUSE, only requiring a manual edit of its configuration file to let it know where the flash browser plugin is located. Needless to say, the desktop application is a serious advantage over Netflix regardless of what platform you use. This is my subscription service of choice thanks to its large library, and its embracing of Linux with its very nice desktop application.

     An oft overlooked service is Crackle which though not having an especially large selection wins in having popular and relatively recent movies for free. The disadvantage with Crackle is that you will be made to endure short commercials throughout your programming. The advertising though is brief, and not too frequent and thus I think its a fair tradeoff for their high quality programming to be delivered for free. Crackle fills in the gaps where Hulu is weak in regards to providing good movies.
    The goal of this article was not to be exhaustive, but merely to show how I happily live without Netflix and avoid forsaking my OS of choice. There are a couple other services of note covered by other authors. Those services however are of a very limited scope, indie movies, or anime for example. If you are unsatisfied by the content of Crackle and Hulu Plus, I recommend taking a look around.

Edit:
A lot of feedback has mentioned Amazon Streaming. I did not include this since it is primarilly a per-title rental service. Though they do have a subscription included streaming package, its content has never impressed me. I had some issues with their playback as well, as have other people I know. If the performance is improved then I would certainly list it as the number one source for movies to rent since it has very large volume of titles and high quality content. It however cannot beat Hulu for performance and value at this time. The playback glitches were a sever issue to me, especially if I'm going to be paying per title what would amount to a significant percentage of the price of Hulu Plus.