Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mac OS X: resetting/changing/restoring Silverlight preferences for Netflix full-screen viewing on second monitor

If you arrived via a search engine and the post title means anything to you, I advise you to skip to the bottom for the step by step.

My excuse for a blog has yet again become neglected and at some point will morph into something else (in theory, something better designed, more professionally hosted and domain-named, and more focused than the currently slapped together "whatever shiny thing catches my eye" Blogspot mess.) But since realistically, this transformation won't happen soon, and I'm currently working to develop a good healthy writing habit for both personal and professional reasons, this seems like as good a place as any to do so.

If you're one of the three people who actually checks this blog (hi mom and dad! and David in New Mexico!), you probably know that I'm a Mac user, and that I am slightly more tech-savvy than the average Joe (Yes, I realize this is the wrong gender, but average Jane annoys me. What if I drop the 'e'? Slightly more tech-savvy than the average Jo. Better?).

I'm not any kind of guru. I don't know a thing about Windows, can't program in any language, and am woefully out of date with regard to online technologies. I'm using Blogger because I haven't had time to get my head around Wordpress. My web-coding roots pre-date WYSIWYG, but I stopped really learning anything web-related around 2001 when I got my first print production job and shifted focus. For anyone who knows web, I'm slightly more comfortable editing HTML in Split View in Dreamweaver than working in Design View, but only slightly — the way someone might be slightly more comfortable drowning in water as opposed to, say, drowning in rubbing alcohol.

So — I'm no technical genius by any stretch. What I do have is a pretty good grasp of how to troubleshoot, and pretty good skills at finding what I need online if I am stumped. If you ever go on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," I'd be a pretty good phone-a-friend. I'm the one my friends tend to call if they have a frustrating Mac problem that they can't solve themselves, both because they think I may know the answer off the top of my head, and because they know that as long as I have the time, I honestly enjoy trying to figure out the solution.

So here's a post about a Mac OS X technical problem that frustrated me for a bit, with directions on how to solve it. One of those "this should be so easy!" type things that's so hard for my problem-solving personality to let go of. The problem was so embarrassingly my own fault that I'm a little sheepish posting this. But in researching the solution today, I came across some recent forum posts from tech-savvy sounding people who found themselves in the same dumb boat I was in. So maybe someday this post will save someone else a few minutes of frustration.

If you're not here because you're trying to solve the same problem I had (i.e, you're my mom, my dad or David in New Mexico), and if you're also really, really bored, or possibly if you have insomnia or are a masochist, you can read the below long and overly detailed description of the problem / process. If you're on the Silverlight development team, you're also encouraged to keep reading, because damn, this was frustrating for a regular end user like me.

So, the problem — like many people who work from home or otherwise have the freedom to do so, I like to play something from Netflix Watch Instant on a second monitor while I work at my desk. (This is once Netflix finally was able to offer streaming content on the Mac. And once I was able to get it to work, which is a whole 'nother story involving, of all things, font management software. Yes. Font management software and internet video. Go figure.)

A long-standing frustration for me and many others had been the inability of Microsoft Silverlight — which handles Netflix's streaming content — to display video full screen on a 2nd monitor while you go about your business on your primary monitor, i.e., watch one screen but work in another. Once upon a time, if you put it in full-screen mode, it would exit back out of that mode as soon as you'd clicked anywhere other than screen displaying the video. (Once that particular window becomes "unfocused," which is a term I learned today.)

So, big deal – my video wasn't as big as it could be. It was only schlocky TV I wasn't really paying attention to anyway. And there were workarounds, but they annoyed me and weren't as elegant as the built-in full-screen mode, which would have been perfect if I could just lock it in. I searched around online, discovered it was a known issue (i.e., it's not a "bug" but a "security feature"), figured Microsoft would fix it someday because people clearly wanted it, then forgot about it.

Sometime in the last year, Silverlight released an update, which apparently included a new "feature" they dubbed pinning mode. (The link goes to a 7 minute video you don't want to watch unless you're a developer, in which case this is old news to you, and you're silently mocking me while you read this.)

I'm learning these fancy names like "pinning" and "unfocused" only today. At the time, all I knew was that after running this update, when I clicked to enter full-screen mode, I suddenly had a window pop up that said "Do you want to allow this web site to stay in full-screen mode?"

silverlight remember screenshot

Hot damn! I clicked a checkbox to "Remember my answer" so it wouldn't nag me about it again, and clicked "Hell yeah!" (OK, actually, I just clicked, "Yes." But had there been a "Hell yeah!" button, I would have clicked it with gusto) and the thing just worked.

So — several happy months of productive home-office second monitor full-screen Netflix viewing go by. Until some subsequent Silverlight update or Firefox reinstall caused this same prompt to pop back up.

No problemo — I've seen this screen before. I know just what to do. Clickity click on "Remember my answer." Then click, "No."

No? No. Aw, crud, not no. Undo? No undo. Fix it in preferences? Who knows where the Silveright prefs are (OK, people clearly know, but I didn't). Restart browser and hope for prompt? Long shot, but no dice. Restart computer? Always a good idea, but not going to fix this clear user error. Reinstall Silverlight and/or Firefox? I know this won't work, but try it anyway. Shake fist at sky and beg for Silverlight to please, for the love of all that is holy, ask me just one more time how I truly feel about full-screen mode so I can this time click "Yes"? Surprisingly little effect.

Now, I could blame Microsoft for putting the "No" button in the bottom right of the dialog box, which is counter-intuitive on a Mac (an Apple dialog would have "OK" in this spot and would have had it similarly highlighted.) But that opens the door to various opinions about UI theory which are way over my head, or worse yet, a Mac v PC argument. Ultimately, the dialog box gave me clear instructions that I did not read; I clicked the wrong thing, then took the added bonus step of making my wrong answer permanent. I made a really dumb mistake. Which should be easily solved by bringing up the Silverlight preferences and changing my final answer.

This proved to be less intuitive than I thought. Ultimately, I didn't spend all that much time on it — a few minutes on the above basic troubleshooting, a few more minutes fumbling around trying to find the Silverlight settings, then spent a few minutes searching for various fruitless terms like "netflix watch instant restore dual monitor full screen silverlight preferences OS X blah blah blah," which mostly found dated forum posts by people bitching about this feature not existing. So I shrugged and said "Oh, well, whatever. Back to my real work" and backburnered it until I had time to figure it out today.

I eventually found that on a Mac, the Silverlight preferences are launched by an app inside the Silverlight plugin package. (EDIT: I later stumbled onto an easier way to lauch the prefs. With a Netflix video onscreen, control-click on the video and you get a contextual menu to launch the Silverlight prefs). This isn't a location that a normal person will stumble onto, because an extra step is required to view package contents and you'd also have to know that they sometimes hide things like this inside packages to think to look there in the first place (I knew this and still forgot to look there). You don't really need to know any of this. What you need to know is that the Silverlight installer sticks an alias in your Applications folder that will launch the preferences app. Hooray!

A side note: while the little hidden-in-the-plugin preferences app is suitably named "Silverlight Preferences," the alias that launches it is inexplicably named "Microsoft Silverlight." This makes no sense to me, as my grossly oversimplified understanding is that a plugin isn't something the user decides to launch, but that it's a tool/add-on for another program to call on when needed. If your browser needs Silverlight, your browser knows where to find it and launches it when it needs to, or prompts you to install it if missing. I point this out simply because if Microsoft had chosen to name this alias "Silverlight Preferences," normal people might actually stumble onto it and be able to tell what it does. I should have noticed it/found it/tried launching it to see what it did, but I overlooked it.

In the end, a simple net search for something like: "Silverlight Mac preferences" would probably have brought me to the answer sooner, but it took a while to come to that conclusion, and even that search comes up with a lot of irrelevant results. I stumbled onto the step-by-step in this completely unrelated Mac-vs-PC discussion (thanks Alice!).


I'm using Firefox in Mac OS X 10.5.8 Leopard. But your preferred browser should in theory be irrelevant. Mac OS version also won't matter, I suspect but haven't confirmed. I have no idea how to reset the Silverlight prefs in Windows but the internet probably does.

So — I'll stop rambling now. Here's what you need to do:

• Bring up your Silverlight prefs – go to your Applications folder, find the Microsoft Silverlight alias and launch it.

(EDIT: I later stumbled onto an easier way to lauch the prefs. With a Netflix video onscreen, control-click anywhere on the video and you get a contextual menu to launch the Silverlight prefs). 

• Click on the tab that says Permissions and you should see something like this:

Silverlight prefs 1

• You may see more items depending on your usage – apparently, Netflix is the only site that has saved any permissions preferences for me. You also may see more than one entry for Netflix — after goofing around with this for a while, I have now two Netflix entries, one that is for www.netflix.com:80 and one for movies.netflix.com:80. If you have both, repeat the following steps for any Netflix items on the list.

• So you see the Allow and Deny button? You'd think then you could just click/on highlight the Netflix line and click Allow, but this doesn't work. I guess there are additional permissions preferences that could be managed, and we have to first tell Silverlight which thing we want to allow.

• So click the little arrow next to the Netflix URL to expand down till you see something like this.

Silverlight prefs 2

• There's that magic word, "unfocused." Where it says "Deny," it needs to say "Allow." To do this, you'll need to click on the text that says "Full-Screen: stay full screen when unfocused," then click Allow.

• You can now close this preference window and should be good to go – I didn't even need to restart my browser. Heck. Go crazy! Toggle back and forth at will!

So there you go — the next time Silverlight asks you a question and you accidentally and somewhat permanently click the wrong answer, you'll know how to change it in a more effective manner than shaking your fist at the sky.


  1. Thank you! I just did the same thing and I'm sure that you just saved me at least an hour of figuring this out!

  2. Hooray! Glad this helped someone.

  3. It occurred to me later that you could also just delete any Netflix prefs in this window, which would prompt the browser to ask you again.

  4. my question is i have forgotten how to edit entries in this "permissions" view, i need to enter other sites; specifically "xfinity.com", among others. is there a way to edit this within mac os x? i know in mirocosft you can edit the registry entry, peace of cake. mac os x? i'm not sure.
    thanks a bunch.

    1. Well, here we are 6 months later and I'm sure you have a solution by now — but are you talking about Silverlight preferences for xfinity.com? I think the step-by-step would be the same. Or if you're talking about some other preference for that site, let me know and I'll try to help.

    2. Hello, Bald Brouser :) I received your recent comments via email — not sure why they're disappearing from the site.

      I'll see if it's something I can figure out. Stay tuned...

      - Kim

    3. thanks Kim :) I'm not sure either. I apologize for the redundancy. Kind of silly but I'm happy you received my message(s). Thank you! :)

  5. This post just made my day.
    I loved the narrative. And I just had to read the whole post despite your suggestion to skip to the bottom if we were directed here by search engine.

    Thank you.
    Thank you.

  6. Aw, thanks. Glad I was able to help, and glad you were entertained in the process. I had a inordinate amount of fun writing it, so I'm glad *someone* read it and enjoyed it.

  7. Thank you for this. :) I have to admit I skimmed slowly through the narrative until I reached the step by step, but it was all amusing and useful. Thank you kindly. :)

    1. Skimming is encouraged - I can be verbose. Glad the step-by-step helped!

  8. Fiddlechick-

    Thanks for the post on this! Very helpful.

    You are the number one Google result for "silverlight preference mac firefox change" search now. That makes it a lot easier for folks to find this out now! Yay! Also, you are clearly reaching more than 3 people through your blog! :)

    I just want to go on record to blame Microsoft for making this so overly complex. Jerks.


  9. Thanks, Jared! I glance at the blog stats occasionally, and I have seen that this post gets more traffic than anything else. Didn't realize maybe how much - just a testament to how much Microsoft sucks... But glad I was able to help.

  10. hi...Im student from Informatics engineering nice article,
    thanks for sharing :)

  11. I just did the exact same thing and had a mini freak out! Googled the same thing and just as you said - everything outdated. Thanks so much!

    1. You're so welcome! At a certain point, the fact that "the internet never forgets" is kind of a bad thing...

  12. Thank you so much for this! I know this is an older blog, but it just saved me from a lot of fist waving and begging for another chance to wright my wrong!

  13. Thank you thank you thank you!!!!

  14. Ha! Most welcome.

    Completely unrelated - my maiden name is Dewey.

  15. De nada! Glad this old post is still helping people.

  16. 2016 and still helpful!
    Only when I opened the prefs there were no entries to allow???

    1. I had this same problem! Trying to figure out why Netflix isn't showing up there...


Your turn.