FFhistory: prologue

Before talking about people in history of FFmpeg and libav it’s worth making an outline of the whole history. After all, personal histories are related to the global events in the project.

As you know, FFmpeg was started by Fabrice Bellard under a pseudonym Gerard Lantau exactly twenty two years ago. Why a pseudonym? Probably because back in the day it was too easy to get sued by patent holders but I may be wrong. Initially it was hosted on SourceForge (which had an affectionate nickname SourceForget thanks for the various outages and failures it had) but after several years it moved to a different hosting (somebody said that after the move the traffic to SourceForge dropped by third).

And thus the era of FFmpeg in MPlayer began (it ended for good rather recently when after different perturbations Árpi could not provide hosting and some Bulgarian provider stepped in). And it was not just hosting, there were some MPlayer-specific code hacks inside (starting from fastmemcpy to libpostproc). More importantly, MPlayer has provided a lot of developers that have been playing a very important role since—like Carl Eugen Hoyos or Michael Niedermayer. The latter became the project leader as FFabrice stopped contributing actively in 2005 or so, he had other awesome projects to work at.

I consider the time of about 2003-2009 the golden age of FFmpeg: new developers, new features, fast growth and so on. Some people drifted in because they wanted to fix some encoding or decoding problem Summer of Code program participation started in 2006, so various students came in and usually left (very few stayed).

Then the consequences of fame started to sink in: FFmpeg became a recognized solution used in the enterprise so more developers were coming with patches to support various enterprise stuff (like broadcasting-specific containers) and disagreements with the project management style were rising (like migrating to Git, having regular releases instead of sticking at 0.4.9pre1 and—the unthinkable—throwing out some outdated features). So the split happened and after the period of initial confusion libav was born.

The following period was a war of FFmpeg against libav, no points for guessing which project won it (I think mostly to the efforts of Carl Eugen, hence I call the project of this period CEmpeg). But in the course of it changed a lot in order to win more popularity with the Linux distributions (and to be able to merge changes from libav).

Yet this was the beginning of its end. As I said before, now the development is mostly bugfixes and updates for various wrappers (both for hardware and software codecs) plus filters (do we really need another gstreamer?). A certain Jean-Baptiste from VideoLAN project undertook a valiant effort to reform FFmpeg by introducing a clearer structure for resolving technical arguments and tried to finally get proper funding from those large companies using the software but so far jbmpeg seems like a mostly failed effort to me, both from the financial and the organisational point of view.

Now with all this context it should be easier for me to talk about the roles of individual developers and other people whose work was important for the project (like compn or Piotr Bandurski) as they would fit somewhere on the timeline and not act in vacuum.

One Response to “FFhistory: prologue”

  1. […] I mentioned in the prologue, not so long after FFmpeg went public it was spotted by MPlayer which offered developers, hosting […]

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