Not only am I a huge fan of Netflix, the popular online DVD rental service, it turns out that I'm one of its better customers. For $20 per month, Netflix sends me three DVD movies from a list of titles that I set up, which I can watch at my leisure without worrying about incurring late fees. After I've watched a movie, I slide the disc into a prepaid envelope, drop it into the mail, and wait a couple of days for the next movie on my list to arrive. Although I'm limited to checking three movies out at a time (you can pay more to get more movies at once), thanks to the fast turnaround I can watch potentially dozens of movies per month and still pay only $20. (For a more comprehensive look at Netflix, see "Worthy Web Sites: Get Your Kicks with Netflix" in TidBITS-604.)
However, I've found that I don't churn through all that many movies in a month. In fact, during especially hectic work periods I've been known to hang onto the same two or three movies for a month or two - which totally blows the cost benefit for me, and no doubt makes me a prized catch for Netflix. With no late fees, we both win: I can still watch a movie when I get the chance, and Netflix doesn't have to pay delivery or stocking costs for my orders.
Before you shake your head and wonder how I managed to pass basic high school math and economics classes, you must understand that only part of my monthly cost, in my view, is going toward supplying me with movies on a regular basis. I'm more than happy to pay because Netflix gives me what I've otherwise been unable to keep consistent: an ongoing list of movies to watch.
When someone recommends a movie to me, it goes into my Netflix Queue. This is especially good for those classic movies that everyone I know has seen, but which I've somehow missed. With my persistent Netflix Queue, I no longer have to stand in Big Corporate Video Rental Store at 10:00 PM racking my brain to remember the title of the Oscar-winning film directed by that guy and starring what's-her-name.
The problem with this system is that those worthwhile movies are often pushed aside by new releases or other movies that I'd rather see sooner. I can rearrange my Netflix Queue online, but it's a bit of a hassle: I need to renumber the items in text fields, apply the change, and hope I didn't mark two entries with the same number.
Becoming a Netflix Fanatic -- I'm obviously not the only one to find this process annoying, which is why I was intrigued to download the $10 shareware Netflix Fanatic, a Mac OS X application from Cricket Media that helps you manage your Netflix Queue without using a Web browser. You can use it to search for movies and add them to your list, see which movies you have checked out, view a list of movies you've selected but which haven't been released, and scroll through your rental history. Netflix Fanatic reads the cookie information from your Web browser, so you don't even need to configure it with login information.
In Netflix Fanatic's Queue tab, you can simply drag titles to change their order, Shift-click to select multiple titles before rearranging them, and add personal notes to a title's text field.
But what makes me slightly giddy is the capability to shuffle (randomize) the Netflix Queue at the click of a button. With dozens of movies in my list, I can hit Shuffle, close the application, and see what arrives next. It's a great way to get out of a movie rut (for example, it's easy to go on a science fiction bender).
Here Today... Sadly, Netflix Fanatic turned out to be too good to be true. As I started to write this article, I was surprised and dismayed to discover that the developer has been forced to stop distributing it due to a dispute with his employer (which is not Netflix) over who owns the program. Based on the note at the program's home page, the developer believes his employer has no ownership over software created during personal time and on personal equipment, but that he doesn't have the financial resources to fight back or become a full-time freelance programmer.
However, existing copies of the program remain $10 shareware, and even though Cricket Media no longer distributes the program, you can still download Netflix Fanatic 1.1.4 from a mirror site in the Info-Mac Archive. It's also possible that another developer may rewrite Netflix Fanatic to avoid the problem.
I don't know anything more about the situation other than what the author has posted, so I can't speculate as to who's in the right here. But the end result is that a novel program that enhanced a popular service won't see any further development, which is a shame. I'll still use my copy, and enjoy the way it has broadened my movie viewing experience. If you use Netflix and run Mac OS X, you should grab a copy as well.