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Fork off! FFmpeg project leader quits, says he's had enough with these forking AV libraries

Won't have Niedermayer to kick around anymore

By Neil McAllister, 5 Aug 2015

The leader of the FFmpeg open source project has resigned amid ongoing turmoil among the project's developers.

FFmpeg, a set of cross-platform, open source libraries for playback of video formatted according to standards created by the MPEG organization, was founded in 2000 by French developer Fabrice Bellard, working under the pseudonym Gerard Lantau. Since 2004, however, it has been led by Michael Niedermayer.

On Friday, Niedermayer announced via the FFmpeg mailing list that he was resigning his role as the project's lead maintainer, largely due to the ongoing schism among its developer community:

will i ever return ? ... i might ..., if theres a nice and friendly environment, no hostile forks or at least none i have to interact with. But i will certainly not return as leader, this is not really a role i ever truly liked, more one i ended up with.

Trouble first arose among the FFmpeg developers in 2011, when a group of contributors decided to fork the project's code into a new project called Libav.

The exact reasons for the schism are hard to decipher. A lot of it seems to boil down to personal bad blood and conflicts over project management, rather than disagreements about technical matters. The fork has proven to be one of the more contentious in open source history.

In his resignation letter, Niedermayer said the ongoing pressures that resulted from FFmpeg and Libav being maintained as separate projects was one of the main factors in his decision to step down:

I had hoped for a long time that the fork situation would resolve and both sides somehow merging back into one team. All the Libav developers joining FFmpeg again. But even now as the last distributions are preparing to remove Libav, still there's no hint of that happening. Maybe even the opposite.

Because FFmpeg and Libav each duplicate the other's functionality almost entirely, projects that rely on them – such as Linux distributions – have generally chosen one or the other, rather than tracking both.

The labor required to address security vulnerabilities is one reason. Significant flaws have been found in both libraries, including bugs that allow remote code execution, and keeping on top of the same fixes for two different libraries would incur too much duplicated effort.

Unfortunately, choosing which horse to bet on hasn't always been easy. Debian Gnu/Linux, for example, initially decided to go with the Libav fork but later went back to FFmpeg.

With both projects still under active development, who will take up the reins of FFmpeg leadership is not yet clear:

I would suggest a new "leader" if there was a clear pick, a year or 2 ago i would have suggested stefano [Sabatini] or clement [Boesch] but they are not so active currently. Maybe a good candidate will appear in the future or stefano & ubitux will become more active again in which case i would suggest one of them as leader if the community wants to have a leader and they agree.

Niedermayer added that while the FFmpeg community decides on its future direction, he will continue to handle basic administrative tasks like opening Git accounts and managing security updates. ®

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