Netflix tries to pull focus but spoils its image

The US movie-streaming company NetFlix posted an article the other day proclaiming the brilliance of Free and Open Source software and how, without it, they'd be pretty much scuppered. All the Free Software they use to get their services running is indeed just the software that we at Positive have supported for all our existence. We try to put our money where our mouth is - sponsoring community conferences and projects, hosting mirrors and generally trying to be good corporate citizens to show at least a modicum of gratitude for the amazing technical bounty from which we and our clients (and Netflix, and Google, and Facebook, and Amazon and pretty much everyone else) benefit.

When we at Positive Internet started all those years ago, we had constantly to explain why Free Software wasn't simply the dreams of some hippies in a commune, but a major technical and philosophical revolution upon which the next generation of web successes would be based. And, indeed, they were.

So, when NetFlix gets press coverage about its use of Open Source projects, the coverage they've received (as if this should be news to anyone) is a little puzzling. What's more puzzling is the audacity of their touting their Open Source credentials when there's one glaring gap in their otherwise heartwarming tale: they provide no software for their services for those who run GNU/Linux on their desktops. So NetFlix are happy to take and patch GNU/Linux services from which they can profit, but they can't be bothered to ensure their software runs on the same platforms they're happy to "leverage" to their own ends. Take, take, take. The story repeats itself with so many other companies who exploit the riches that Free Software provides but give little in return: the satnav people TomTom are another example. Those little boxes you plug into your car's cigarette lighter and have liberated you from your map in the glove compartment run GNU/Linux and a plethora of other Free Software. TomTom would not be where they are today without this galaxy of freedom. And what have they provided in return? Nothing. Although their Windows and Mac clients are directly based upon the Free Software Firefox browser, they wilfully refuse to provide a GNU/Linux client which will allow people to upload maps and the like to their GPS services. It would have cost them veritable pennies to provide their software, and their GNU/Linux users have been begging for it. They can't be bothered to listen.

Until now, these selfish so-and-sos have had the excuse that, whilst they are happy to exploit the riches of the Free Software infrastructure, those who use GNU/Linux and the like on their desktops were currently so limited in their numbers that it hasn't been worth the company's while to port their software.

Until now, one would have simply retorted "forget the numbers and just do the decent thing ". Decency is not a very persuasive argument when it comes to business, so a more pragmatic response has recently made itself felt: with Android, which runs atop Linux, as well as any number of slates, netbooks and other new devices which don't simply run Windows coming down the line, the days of dismissing the end-users of these alternative platforms as a few lonely cranks is rapidly coming to an end. Those organisations who have gotten into the swing of producing GNU/Linux clients (like Spotify, for example) will not suddenly have to shock themselves into playing catchup for these new, vital platforms. Others, like NetFlix and TomTom might find that their early selfishness gains them a rude awakening. Sometimes, being decent earlier bears fruit later. It would be good if a few more organisations realised this.