The Netflix app on Windows 8 is Breaking … and that's Bad!

Can Windows 8 replicate the "it just works" experience of iPad, or is Windows RT a better bet...?
Written by Matt Baxter-Reynolds, Contributor

I'm deeply envious of my Twitter friend Travis Lowdermilk. Check out his sweet Windows 8 setup running Netflix with snapped view with Tweetro down the side. He's not just pimped his tablet with Windows 8, he's pimped his whole life.

Netflix on Windows 8
Travis enjoys watching Breaking Bad with Netflix on a Windows 8 tablet.I'd like to as well.

I don't get that juicy Windows 8-slash-Netflix goodness. Whenever I try to play anything on the newly announced Windows 8 Netflix app it just borks out with error "W8158". It asks me to run Windows Update and check my drivers.

OK, so this may be me. I run Windows 8 in an unusual way. My day-to-day machine is a MacBook Pro, and I run Windows 8 using VMware Fusion. I reached out over Twitter this morning to find people with similar experiences. Two people confirmed it was working Travis-style for them. A few others had the W8158 error I had, and a few more had a different W8156 error. From what I can tell, W8158 is a driver problem, W8156 is a network problem, but don't quote me on it. One person reported running Windows Update cleared W8156, oddly. Others said that being authenticated to a domain or not made W8156 appear or disappear, but at this point I'm not sure why I'm doing technical support for Netflix - perhaps it's my innate desire for Windows 8 not to be a disaster.

But this isn't about the specifics of the Netflix app failure - these issues will sort themselves out. It's about a deeper problem with Windows 8.

(Incidentally, I did phone Netflix support and they said it was VMWare's fault and that I needed to update my drivers. Their PR department didn't get back to me with a comment. VMware's PR people did get back to me, and they said it was an "issue specific to the new Netflix 'Metro' application which was released only 2 days ago". I didn't contact VMware support. As we'll soon learn - I just gave up and moved on.)


Scratch an iPad deep enough and at its base you'll find Darwin - the core operating system that underpins both iOS and OS X. This is similar to how Windows NT underpins both Windows 8 and Windows RT. The point is that Apple and Microsoft have taken similar approaches in that they have a small, central OS on which they build two distinct branches of products. OS X and Windows are used for broad-scale computing device, what we might call a "normal computer". The other brand contains very-focused, small-scale, highly-portable devices - specifically post-PC devices like Apple's iPad and Microsoft's Windows RT. Both firms use the same approach to build the same sort of devices targeting the same sort of markets.

So let's look back at the Netflix app not working on Windows 8. My attitude when I saw it not work was "oh well, it's not working" and then I moved on. Like a lot of Windows users, I've become inured to things just not working. I gave up on having the sort of slick Netflix experience that Travis enjoyed and resolved to try again in the future when Netflix and/or VMware had sorted the problem out. I no longer get a sense of frustration from things not working on Windows because that's just what I've got used to.

Microsoft isn't just rebooting the OS with Windows 8, it's rebooting customers's perception. People generally think of the iPad as a basic device that doesn't go wrong. They don't see it as a computer - it's a device that supposed to "just work".

There will be a raft of Windows 8 tablets that are sold at the same price point of the iPad. People will buy them expecting the same experience. But what happens in Apple-land is that the Netflix app and its kin always work. (Or it very obviously doesn't and very publicly fails.) Whereas in Windows-land people hover their finger over the button perhaps expecting failure, the intimidation-free world of the iPad yields no such anxiety. Those users expecting a land of "just working" goodness, but actually being in "oops, this is going to break!" Old Windows-land could end up being very, very unhappy customers indeed.

The Windows of true love

Over on Windows RT, because the environment is far more tightly controlled, we should find that the Netflix app just works, perfectly, on every device. Windows RT devices are simpler, the driver surface area much more tightly controlled, and there will be far fewer of them compared to the OEM free-for-all we're going to see on the Windows 8 side. A Windows RT user should be anxiety-free and intimidation-free. You also can't install Old Windows software on Windows RT, which greatly reduces your chances of inadvertendly breaking something by replacing a component with something bad.

This is why consumers should buy Windows RT devices and eschew Windows 8 devices. Windows 8 is too complicated, too open to the old rubbish we're used to with "normal computers". Windows RT has a much better chance of "just working". If you're looking to buy a family member a Windows tablet this holiday season, if you love them, buy them Windows RT not Windows 8.

You want them to be happy, don't you?

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Picture credit: Travis Lowdermilk

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