Netflix Users Seething Over Microsoft Silverlight to switch to Flash last November

Over the weekend, angry Netflix users flooded the company's blog with reports of choppy video performance and audio synchronization issues related to Netflix's Silverlight-based video player, which allows users to watch movies on their PCs. Although users have to opt-in to get the Netflix Silverlight player, many are upset about being unable to roll back to the older Windows Media-based player.

As a result, some users feel they've been duped into downloading Silverlight. "This is a big step backward; avoid it like the plague if you are OK with the old player. I was virtually tricked into downloading [Silverlight], and the resulting quality is nowhere near as good as before," one Netflix user wrote in a comment on the company's blog.

"Dealing with Silverlight has been the most unpleasant portion of the whole streaming experience, to be honest, and I hope that Netflix moves away from this technology," wrote another blog poster.

Netflix designed the Silverlight player to not allow users to roll back to the old Windows Media-based player, but that decision was made to ensure that Netflix users have the optimal viewing experience, according to Steve Swasey, vice president of corporate communications for Netflix.

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"We switched to Silverlight to provide greater speed, reliability and stability, and that has been the case for the vast majority of Netflix members," Swasey said in an interview.

Although many of the negative Silverlight comments on Netflix's blog come from anonymous posters, the issues are similar to those raised by disgruntled video subscribers last August. Those issues led to's defection to Flash in November, at a time when Microsoft had been touting Silverlight's performance as the multimedia technology of choice for both the Beijing Olympics and the Democratic National Convention.

Microsoft's distribution strategy relies on end-user requests to install the Silverlight client, which is why winning share among online content and services Web sites with mass audiences is crucial to Microsoft establishing Silverlight as a viable development platform.

But the ties that exist between the two companies suggest that Netflix won't be ditching Silverlight anytime soon. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings joined Microsoft's board of directors in March 2007, and last July, Netflix and Microsoft inked a deal in which Netflix will deliver movies via the Internet to Microsoft Xbox 360 users.

Ironically, not long after Netflix made the Silverlight player beta available to users, the company laid off 50 technical specialists in its customer support group. Company officials said the Silverlight player was so easy to install and use that it had created redundancies within the group.