Roku—Breaking the Linux Not Invited Rule

Many of you probably are familiar with the Roku media streaming device. In a partnership with Netflix, the Roku is one of several officially supported devices for streaming the large collection of Netflix's available movies and television shows. What makes the Roku interesting is that although Netflix doesn't support streaming its DRM-protected movies to Linux users, the Roku itself runs Linux.

The technology to stream Netflix titles to Linux is obviously available. Hopefully, as Linux users, we'll soon be able to join the Internet streaming club and watch movies on our desktops. Even more exciting will be media players like Boxee and XBMC (both of which run under Linux) being able to stream Netflix titles.

It is still frustrating that the streaming titles offered by Netflix are DRM-protected. The unmetered, on-demand streaming is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, in time, companies will realize that DRM only annoys those of us willing to spend money. It encourages pirating, rather than discouraging it.

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Better focus should be spent

jin's picture

Better focus should be spent on getting the word out that these devices use DRM and to tell people not to use them.

I haven't looked for it, but

Anonymous's picture

I haven't looked for it, but I'm sure you could probably get the source for the roku linux distro...however, I don't believe that necessarily means you'll get the source for the video player and codec. I believe it is legal to make closed source applications and codecs that run on the open source os (assuming we're talking GPL here, which in my experience is usually the case). If I'm wrong about this, someone please correct me.

It will never improve

Paulo Pinto's picture

I fear that this situation will never improve.

We see it everywhere, there are lots of companies that take Linux
just because it costs them nothing, but they use it for closed solutions
where they don't give anything back to the community.

For example some gamming studios have released Linux games just as an experiment,
but then dropped the support for the sequels (Neverwinter Nights is a good example).

Then we have the media formats that will never be open, but are the ones being used
by the industry because of the tooling support they have.

Finnally we have companies creating hardware solutions that run Linux, but which
provide only Windows drivers to talk with them.

The mini laptops is also a good example, we thought that now it was finally the time
that Linux would be in the hands of normal users, only to see it vanish from 90% of
the current offers.

I like Linux a lot, and used to dream of the day when I could use it for all my
daily tasks, but I think that will never arrive, mainly because of the lack of
proper multimedia support.

I have a Roku box and love it

Lessgravity's picture

I'm running Boxee, XBMC, and Cooliris on an Ubuntu box. I really like aspects of each and can't decide what my final choice for a media center will be.
I also have a Roku box. We use it to watch Netflix and Amazon pay per view. In reality my family finds this box so easy to use and it works so well that I can't imagine introducing them to anything else. You really can't beat the $99 investment. We have done away with cable and between the Roku box(for movie content) and the Ubuntu box (for TV-Hulu and other online media) we haven't missed it at all.

I own a Q-See Security

DataMan's picture

I own a Q-See Security Monitoring DVR which claims to run "VIRUS FREE" Linux but it cannot be accessed with Firefox, only IE. Monitoring app is also Windows only. There is plenty of stuff that runs Linux but only supported on Windows platform like many of the navigation devices. Maybe GNU should put in a clause in there license(s) for anyone using Linux kernel in there devices to provide FIRST CLASS support to people running Linux, then maybe we can talk about taking Linux mainstream.

Linux is freedom of choice

goblin's picture

I disagree. No such clause should be added to the GPL.

Linux is all about freedom - also freedom of choice. Manufacturers appreciate that, and that's why they choose Linux for embedded devices and services. If we take freedom away from them, we force them towards using embedded flavors of Windows, *BSD, ..., anything but Linux. Will that bring us closer to our goals?

As a consumer, you should also exercise your freedom of choice, and deselect devices that demand you to use Windows. Reward manufacturers who are platform agnostic, or at least support Linux users.

If you keep rewarding manufacturers who demand you to use Windows by buying their products, then you can't expect them to get the message.

My 2cents

original patriot's picture

Sorry if this is a bit off subject, but i wanted to take this opportunity to express my deep regret that Netflix has no come up with an open source solution over this last year. I will be cancelling my subscription due to this unwhillingnes to support my os of choice. I would also like to take this opportunity to give Hulu a bit of kudos. I know they're library is not expansive when it comes to movies, but they run on my Firefox browser just fine.

Netflix DRM

Jon Smirl's picture

My understanding is that Netflix uses Microsoft WMA DRM. WMA DRM can be licensed on Linux for about $0.75 a box. The existence of this royalty prevents the codec form being freely redistributed. Roku has to pay it for each box. Via unknown means the WMA codecs are in the Medibuntu repositories. Bottom line, it is a licensing problem, not a technical one.

Load the WMA codecs from Medibuntu and sniff a Netflix URL. I suspect you can get the movies to play on Linux.

Normally, I'd agree that DRM is evil, but...

Anonymous's picture

This is DRM on content you are RENTING, not content that you are BUYING. So explain to me what the big deal is. As long as it is seamless as it appears to be with Roku, who cares? It's not like you have to worry about not being able to play the content you bought at some future date, because you're renting it.

Misconceptions

Steve Oliver's picture

The real controversy here should be that players and services continue to use DRM, not that they use DRM on top of Linux (which is perfectly legal). There has been some movement to prevent the use of open source software in devices and systems that lock things down to enable DRM, but this is futile and a waste of time, and trying to prevent such use will have negative consequences for the platform overall.

Better focus should be spent on getting the word out that these devices use DRM and to tell people not to use them. The problem of course is that most people do not care about DRM when things work correctly, and companies have worked hard to ensure that problems do not happen so that users remain uninterested in the potential problems DRM brings.

source

Anonymous's picture

I haven't looked for it, but I'm sure you could probably get the source for the roku linux distro...however, I don't believe that necessarily means you'll get the source for the video player and codec. I believe it is legal to make closed source applications and codecs that run on the open source os (assuming we're talking GPL here, which in my experience is usually the case). If I'm wrong about this, someone please correct me.

source?

Joe A's picture

So if it's running linux, where's the source?

>>So if it's running linux, where's the source?

Jim W.'s picture

The Roku sources (other than proprietary codecs) can be found at http://www.roku.com/community/gpl_rdvp.php.

Here, here!

samba's picture

I'm a netflix subscriber, so money isn't the problem. I have an xbox 360, and I love that I can stream movies to it. I use Linux on the vast majority of my systems. I look forward to streaming to it - hopefully. DRM is a disservice to paying customers.

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