Two weeks ago, I blogged about the fact that Netflix was blocking Chrome and Firefox with Fedora user agents although those browsers are now officially supported on Linux. The blogpost got a lot of publicity, almost 5000 hits, and I was even accused of creating clickbaits on reddit 🙂 But it led to the wanted result – solving the issue.
Someone pointed me to Paul Adolph from Netflix. He no longer works in the department which is responsible for user agent filtering, but was very helpful and forwarded the issue to responsible engineers. They never told me why they were blocking Fedora (and it turned out other distributions such as CentOS, Debian, openSUSE too), but promised to fix it within the next couple of weeks. I assume it was just some outdated user agent filter.
I tested it today and it seems to be fixed, both for Chrome and Firefox. And also not only for Fedora, but also for other distributions (I tested CentOS, Debian, and openSUSE). So now you can watch Netflix on Fedora without any user agent tweaking. Just keep in mind that for Firefox you need to install ffmpeg Firefox is using for media playback, Chrome should work out of the box.
I’d like to thank Netflix for resolving the situation pretty quickly.
Netflix should finally support their HTML5 player in Firefox 52 on Linux. This version has already landed in Fedora and been there for a couple of weeks and we’ve already received complaints from users who are confused. Both Netflix and Mozilla claim it should work, but it doesn’t for them.
Netflix still forwards them to their Silverlight player. That’s pretty much a showstopper because Silverlight has been dead for quite a few years and it has never been easy to make it work on Linux.
In fact, Firefox 52 in Fedora does work with Netflix. As we found out the problem is in the user agent. The default user agent is:
Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Fedora; Linux x86_64; rv:52.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/52.0
If you remove “Fedora” from the user agent, Netflix suddenly stops offering Silverlight and just works. One would say that they only want to support official builds from Mozilla and allow only the upstream user agent. It would be an unfortunate way to do it, but at least partly understandable. But things get really weird when you try replacing “Fedora” with random strings. Because then it also works which means that Netflix blocks Fedora specifically!
Netflix has supported Chrome for much longer and it also has behaved the same there. We set the Fedora user agent via an extension and the only reason why it works in Chrome on Fedora is that we blacklisted the netflix.com domain for the Fedora user agent.
We could do the same in Firefox, but I think it’s something that should be fixed on the side of Netflix. Users should not be denied a service based on their user agent. It takes us 15 years back when Opera had to fake its user agent to work with websites. Moreover Fedora isn’t anyhow different in this than other Linux distributions, so why is it blocked while others are not?
As a Netflix customer, I tried to call their support. I got to a first line support person who didn’t have much of a clue, trying to convince me that Silverlight works just fine on Fedora (which is not really true). So I tried to explain the problem and asked if they could pass it on to responsible engineers. We’ve also been trying to reach them through various contacts. Linux is not probably an important platform for Netflix, but they at least care enough to block specifically Fedora, so they should care enough to fix it. Moreover there are many Linux engineers in the company who could care, too. If you know anyone working in Netflix, please tell them about this and ask them to pass it on to responsible people. If you’re both a Netflix and Fedora user, you may also try to contact their support and let them know that it doesn’t work for you. Maybe if they collect more such cases it will make them look at it.
Edit: I’ve been told that Netflix also blocks user agents of other popular distros. So to make it work you can replace “Fedora” with random strings so long as it’s not “openSUSE”, “Debian”, “CentOS”. The only exception is Ubuntu which is not blocked.
Edit2: I’ve managed to contact the right people in Netflix and they promised to fix it within the next couple of weeks!
When I announced Firefox Developer Edition for Flatpak over a month ago, I also promised that we would not stop there and bring more options in the future. Now I can proudly announce that we provide two more variants of Firefox – Firefox Nightly and Firefox Nightly for Wayland.
With Nightly, you can closely follow the development of Firefox. Due to Flatpak you can easily install it and keep getting daily updates via our flatpak repo.
As a bonus, we’re also bringing a Firefox build that runs natively on Wayland. We used to provide a Copr repository, but with Flatpak it’s open to users of other distros, too. When running this version, keep in mind it’s still WIP and very experimental. Firefox seems to run just fine on Wayland at first glance, but there is still some basic functionality missing (copy-paste for example) and it’s not so stable either (it crashed the whole Wayland session for me once). But once it’s done, it will be a big improvement in security for Firefox on Linux because Wayland isolates the application on the display server level. Together with other pieces of Flatpak sandboxing, it will provide a full sandbox for the browser in the future.
When adding more Firefox variants to the repo, we first considered using branches, but you have to switch between them manually to start different variants of Firefox which we didn’t find very user friendly. In the end, we’re using one branch and multiple applications with different names in it. This way, you can install and run multiple variants in parallel.
You can find the instructions to install Firefox for Flatpak on the repository webpage. We’re also constantly improving how Firefox runs in Flatpak. If you have any Flatpak-specific problems with Firefox, please report it to our bug tracker on Github. If you hit problems that are not Flatpak-specific, please report them directly to Mozilla.
And again kudos to Jan Hořák from our team who made all this happen!
Our team maintains Firefox RPMs for Fedora and RHEL and a lot of people have been asking us to provide Firefox for Flatpak as well. I’m finally happy to announce Firefox Developer Edition for Flatpak.
We started with the Developer Edition because that’s something that is not easily available to Fedora users. Providing the standard Firefox wouldn’t bring a lot of benefit right now because it’s available very quickly after upstream releases via Fedora repositories. In the future, we’d like to add releases of the standard Firefox (nightly, stable, perhaps ESR).
Firefox DE for Flatpak is built on our internal build cluster and hosted on mojefedora.cz (mojefedora == myfedora in Czech) on OpenShift. It’s an unofficial build for testing purposes, not provided by Mozilla. We’d like to work with Mozilla, so that it can eventually be adopted by the Mozilla project and you can get Firefox flatpaks directly from the source.
Right now, Firefox DE is not sandboxed, it has full access to user’s home. In the near future, we’d like to start a devel branch in the flatpak repository where we will ship a sandboxed Firefox and experiment how well Firefox can handle sandboxing and what needs to be done to assure the expected user experience. A web browser is definitely the #1 candidate among desktop applications for sandboxing. If you’re interested in sandboxing Firefox on Linux via Flatpak, contact us (you’ll find Jan’s email on the website with installation instructions).
We’ve tested the FDE flatpak on Fedora 25, openSUSE Tumbleweed, and Ubuntu 16.10. You need flatpak 0.6.13 or newer for the installation commands to work. The repo should work with older versions as well, but there was a change in command syntax and the commands we use don’t work in older releases than 0.6.13. Fedora 25 has the newest release (0.8.0), openSUSE Tumbleweed has a new enough release (0.6.14), just for Ubuntu you’ll need to install the newest flatpak from a PPA.
GNOME Software in Fedora 25 also supports adding repos via .flatpakrepo files and installing apps via .flatpakref files, but it’s not reliable enough yet, so we only recommend you use the command line instructions. It’s just two commands (you only need the latter one on Fedora 25 with the newest flatpak).
There are also a couple of problems we haven’t quite figured out yet. In openSUSE and Ubuntu, the desktop file database is not refreshed after the installation, so the launcher doesn’t appear right away. You need to log out and log in to refresh it and make the launcher appear. In openSUSE Tumbleweed in KDE Plasma in a VM, I couldn’t start the app getting “no protocol specified, Error: cannot open display: :99.0”. We’re looking for hearing from you how it works on other distributions.
Although the repo is for testing purposes, we’re committed to updating it regularly until we announce otherwise on the website with the installation instructions. So you don’t have to worry that you’ll end up with a scratch build that will never get updated.
At last, I’d like to thank Vadim Rutkovsky who made the initial proof-of-concept Firefox build for Flatpak we built upon, and Jan Hořák who did most of the work on the current build and repo setup.
Google Chrome is the most popular browser in the world. It is so popular that some call it a new Internet Explorer. But that’s based on global stats. In Red Hat, I’m responsible for web browsers, so I wondered what are the most popular web browsers among Fedora users. So I asked through Fedora accounts on Facebook and Google+: “Which browser do you use the most in Fedora?”
I didn’t look for exact numbers. It’s clear that such polls can’t be 100% representative and for instance Google+ users have inclination to use Google products which can be seen on the comparison of results from Facebook and Google+. However, I think the results give you a rough idea of what browsers are popular among Fedora users. And the results are:
The surveys differed a bit. G+ supports polls, but only up to five options. So I pre-selected five browsers I expected would be most popular, and told the users to write a browser of their choice to comments if it’s not among pre-selected options. Facebook natively doesn’t support polls, so users wrote their preferences in comments. Even though other browsers were not discriminated by not being pre-selected the results were very similar. None of them got more votes than any of the pre-selected five. The total amount of votes on Facebook was considerable lower than on Google+ (1262). And the findings?
Firefox and Chrome/Chromium are the only relevant browsers among Fedora users. They take up to 95% of the pie. Opera and Epiphany were a bit more popular among Fedora users on Facebook, but neither of them exceeded 5%. All other browsers got just a couple of votes: Midori, Konqueror, SeaMonkey, Pale Moon, Vivaldi, Lynx,…
Firefox was the winner, a pretty clear one on Facebook and a close one on Google+ (49% vs 48%). Firefox is the default browser, so it’s not surprising.
What really surprised me is the huge difference between Chrome and Chromium. I thought there would be more people who prefer open source solutions, but apparently a lot more people prefer convenience even among Fedora users. You can find Chromium in alternative repos and it’s easy to install, but it doesn’t include Flash player and other closed source goodies. With Chrome, you get it all with an installation of one package. In terms of numbers of users, Chromium is pretty much irrelevant if you compare it to Chrome.
Quite a few people said that they were primarily using Firefox, but they had Chrome for Flash. When Flash goes finally away, Chrome will lose one of its significant advantages.
Opera used to have a market share of ~10% among Linux users. In this survey, it got 4.9% (FB) and 1.7% (G+). It took them more one year to release the new generation of Opera (based on Chromium) for Linux after they discontinued the original Opera (12.16). Apparently most users left and never came back (I’m one of them).