Ethereum > Rootstock (Bitcoin & Smart Contracts)

Remember all of those Bitcoin maximalists pointing fingers at Ethereum? “Smart contracts are insecure,” they would jeer… “what gives our asset its value is its simplicity!” There are those who still express these sentiments.

Unfortunately, for those in the “simplicity equals value” camp, Bitcoin is going to inherit more functionality regardless. Smart contract support is coming to Bitcoin as a sidechain called Rootstock (RSK).

Suddenly, a segment of the Bitcoin crowd has switched narratives. Smart contracts should be embraced as long at they are operating on the Bitcoin platform. Nevermind the fact that Ethereum has a head-start (and other platform projects do, too, for that matter)… first mover advantages apparently aren’t a thing in this smart contract domain. At least, that’s what uninformed Bitcoin fans might have you believe.

I’m partial to Ethereum, certainly. However, I’d like to take a moment and reiterate the fact that competition is always good for innovation, and it’s certainly good for the future of blockchains and smart contracts. Rootstock is probably good for everyone in the crypto-space. Let’s try not to get too cliquey. That said, it probably isn’t as competitive as you might have been led to believe.

Does Rootstock jeopardize Ethereum’s role as the top platform on which to execute smart contracts?

The Features

To answer our question, let’s cut to the chase and make aware of this: Ethereum is so good that Rootstock is effectively importing it into the Bitcoin ecosystem.

Ethereum is using the programming language Solidity – and people often lambaste the language as the root cause of Ethereum’s “security problems”, because coding in Solidity is “too hard”. This is a terribly misguided argument, in my opinion, but it’s pervasive.

Newsflash: Rootstock will use Solidity! In fact, Rootstock is based on the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM). Rootstock isn’t attempting to reinvent the wheel. This is an intelligent design choice, because it allows applications already written for the Ethereum platform to work on the Bitcoin platform via Rootstock. Developers (even users) of smart contracts could easily port them over to the Bitcoin/Rootstock platform if they ever so desired.

So wait, are they really competing if they are mostly importing? On my view, Rootstock is not truly competing with Ethereum directly, rather, it is allowing Bitcoin to compete more fully.

So, if the smart contract “features” are fundamentally the same, then the answer to our question is going to depend on something else. What else is there?

Crypto will always reduce itself to: features, networks, and communities. Admittedly, the lines can get a little blurry. Let’s look at the two remaining factors.

The Networks

Ethereum was designed with smart contracts as central to its platform. Bitcoin, obviously, was not. A side chain implementation will not be able to make these initial design differences vanish. At some point, the underlying system that is the Bitcoin network will hinder Rootstock functionality.

This is not a secret. The first compromise is one that Bitcoin maximalists are going to have a hard time sweeping under the rug. Rootstock is starting as a “federated system” – that’s fancy-talk that translates to: centralized system.

Bitcoin simply wasn’t designed with the “op codes” required for robust smart contracts. The Rootstock solution, at least until they can implement something better, is to have trusted machines fill in the gaps. You just have to trust them to hold on to your Bitcoin long enough to do the smart contract thing… sure…

Problematic, much? Blockchains and smart contracts are all about decentralization and trust-less functionality. The crypto space as a whole may not be as open to trust as the Rootstock project requires them to be. You will have to trust the DApp programmers and the federated system to interact with a smart contract with Bitcoin.

Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that there are associated costs with the “federation”. You’ll also need to pay a little fee to RSK Labs for their role in the whole equation. The good news, though, is that Rootstock is promising some serious speeds in exchange for your fees.

The Bitcoin network is notoriously slow. It has been struggling with scalability solutions for years. Many DApps benefit from lower latency and users certainly won’t scoff at faster confirmation of activities. If Rootstock can deliver on speed in the short term, then this might be enough to get Bitcoin users and companies excited. In fact, anytime you can use “Bitcoin” and “fast” in the same sentence, people usually pay attention. Ethereum already offers speed for fluid smart contract interactions – so there would be little risk of losing market share on that count alone.

Also, do not forget – Rootstock speed is dependent on some level of trust for now. So is PayPal.

Last point, a user still needs to get their contract and associated funds over to the Rootstock sidechain to take advantage of its features. Deploying a contract on Rootstock will still suffer from long confirmation times caused by the Bitcoin side of the equation. Comparatively, contract deployments on Ethereum take seconds.

A trust-less system designed for smart contracts probably needn’t fear a network reliant on trust and hindered by the host chain’s design features and confirmation times.

The Communities

This part is going to be short and sweet. A large part of the Bitcoin community has been very vocal about keeping Bitcoin either as a store of value, or digital cash. They are quick to reject other ideas about how Bitcoin should function.

The Bitcoin community by-and-large has a long history of rejecting the Ethereum project’s vision. Trying to basically embed Ethereum into the Bitcoin ecosystem may not go well. DApps need users – and those Bitcoin users that wanted DApps have probably already bought into the Ethereum platform. Those that rejected DApps probably don’t want Ethereum ideologies in the middle of Bitcoin “innovation”.

DApp projects have already been sucking up the talented smart contract developers and operating within the Ethereum ecosystem. They may not be too keen to rally around Rootstock if they already have a vested interest in the Ethereum platform.

Ethereum Needn’t Feel Threatened

It’s laudable that at least a few Bitcoin developers can recognize: when another tech gets too far ahead of you, sometimes it’s just best to make it part of your project at all costs. That option, after all, is the beauty of open source systems.

All told, Ethereum probably doesn’t have much to worry about even after Rootstock goes live. It is doubtful that Ethereum would be replaced by a sidechain solution gimped by Bitcoin’s underlying design decisions.

You need not take my word for it, even Sergio Demian Lerner, the lead developer for Rootstock, will confirm it:

Rootstock is not a threat to Ethereum, I agree.

Quote Source: Reddit