While both the Bitcoin and Ethereum networks are powered by the principle of distributed ledgers and cryptography, the two differ technically in many ways. For example, transactions on the Ethereum network may contain executable code, while data affixed to Bitcoin network transactions are generally only for keeping notes. Other differences include block time (an ether transaction is confirmed in seconds compared to minutes for bitcoin) and the algorithms that they run on (Ethereum uses ethash while Bitcoin uses SHA-256).
Ethereum is what is known as an open-source, blockchain-based, distributed computing platform. It has smart contract features that enable the processing of contractual agreements online. These smart contracts can be used to process the transfer of assets, such as shares, property, and money. When a smart contract is run on a blockchain, it becomes a self-operating program. It will automatically execute once certain predefined conditions have been met.
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Though it’s too early to know who the eventual winners will be, I believe this trend captures the early beginnings of a new, decentralized global financial system. So to describe it, an analogy for the existing one is useful: bitcoin is the dollar, and Ethereum is SWIFT, the international network that coordinates cross-border payments among banks. (Since Ethereum is trying to do much more than payments, we could also cite a number of other organizations in this analogy, such as the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) or the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation (DTCC).)
Like other blockchains, Ethereum has a native cryptocurrency called Ether (ETH). ETH is digital money. If you’ve heard of Bitcoin, ETH has many of the same features. It is purely digital, and can be sent to anyone anywhere in the world instantly. The supply of ETH isn’t controlled by any government or company – it is decentralized, and it is scarce. People all over the world use ETH to make payments, as a store of value, or as collateral. The latest news about Ethereum mostly concerns the move to Serenity the last post-development phase of Ethereum as well as changing Ether mining’s concept from Proof-of-Work to Proof-of-Stake in order to reduce the power cost of the process.