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Sunday, November 02, 2008, 08:05 pm PT (11:05 pm ET)

Netflix opens web movie streams to most Mac users

Netflix has expanded the online component of its movie rental service to include any Intel Mac user who volunteers to join in a new public beta.

The test version of Watch Instantly is open to any Mac user with both a qualifying Netflix subscription and a system capable of playing videos in Microsoft's Silverlight web plugin.

Previously limited just to a controlled rollout, the expanded beta is considered the second phase of testing and comes along with a new wave of movies and TVs added to the service for all viewers.

The company cautions that there may be bugs and that the Silverlight version's catalog isn't a one-for-one duplicate of what's available in the regular version of Watch Instantly, which normally requires Internet Explorer on a Windows PC or else a set-top box with Netflix support built-in.

The expansion is made possible by Silverlight's inherent support for copy protection regardless of either the operating system or the browser and thus prevents casual rips of the video feed using third-party tools.

Mac users have typically been excluded from such services in the past but have gained increasing access in recent months to commercial video services that once required Windows alone, such as Amazon's Video on Demand. Hulu and other free services have often escaped these limits due to their uses of advertising, which lets the Fox/NBC joint project offer video for free.