A power struggle over the future of bitcoin is dividing its lead developers, provoking a fierce debate over whether the digital currency’s software should be tweaked to allow for more and speedier transactions.
Bitcoin, a web-based ‘cryptocurrency’, provides a vehicle for moving money across the world quickly and anonymously without the need for third-party verification. That has made it attractive to all sorts of users, from drug dealers to Greeks trying to get around capital controls.
On Saturday, a rival version of the current software was released by two bitcoin big guns: Gavin Andresen, who was chosen by the currency’s elusive creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, as his successor when he stepped aside in 2011, and Mike Hearn, who along with Andresen is one of five senior developers.
For months Andresen and Hearn have been locked in an argument with the other three lead programmers over whether the “blocks” in which bitcoin transactions are processed should be enlarged from their current 1 megabyte, so as to enable more than three payments to be processed per second.
The new version, which calls itself Bitcoin XT, would increase the block size to 8 megabytes, which would allow up to 24 transactions to be processed every second. That is still a fraction of the 20,000 or so that VISA can process, but would increase every year, so that bitcoin could continue to grow.
Those who oppose Bitcoin XT say the bigger block size jeopardizes the vision of a decentralized payments system that bitcoin is built on, as the extra computer memory needed would shut out many of the thousands of individual “nodes” that currently power the network.
Some reckon the split could spell the end of bitcoin. But Hearn, speaking to Reuters on Tuesday, said that whether or not Bitcoin XT was adopted, the crypocurrency would live on.
“If we thought it