This review was updated on June 8, 2015.
Millions of people around the world have heard and are curious about Bitcoin. Many are already using the digital currency and many more are planning to start using it in the near future. But the question everybody asks is:
What Bitcoin software or service should I use?
Bitcoin Core (formerly known as Bitcoin-Qt) is the original Bitcoin peer-to-peer open source software created by the network’s founder Satoshi Nakamoto. It is the core of the Bitcoin system and anybody can download it for free to their desktops. It contains the public ledger that lists every Bitcoin transaction in the system. When installed it turns your computer into a node in the Bitcoin Network.
Bitcoin Wallet is what is called a “thin client”. Created by Andreas Schildbach, a Bitcoin community engineer, it is also open source. It’s called “thin” because it doesn’t contain the Bitcoin public ledger and it needs to connect to the network through another Bitcoin server. This software is like any app on your smartphone and works on Android and Blackberry devices.
Coinbase is a private company based in San Francisco, California, that provides web and mobile Bitcoin services. The mission of the founders is to provide Bitcoin value added products for consumers and merchants. Their users deal with the company rather than directly with the network. Coinbase is recognized as “the PayPal” of the Bitcoin Network.
How do they compare?
The three services fulfill the basic functions of storing and keeping track of your Bitcoin account balance, but they differ in features and security format. Take a look at this comparison chart to see the differences:
And what does this mean for me?
As shown above there are several things to take into account when deciding what solution to use. It all boils down to your personal needs and your security preferences. These are the descriptions for each feature:
Send and Receive: The first thing you do when you get a Bitcoin wallet is to acquire your first bitcoins by selling products and services or by buying them. After that you need to be able to transfer them to pay for things or sell them. For this the features of Send and Receive are needed and the three solutions mentioned above provide this. They all also have the Address Book functionality that let’s you store names and Bitcoin addresses so it’s easier to manage your transfers.
Buy and Sell: If you need to buy and sell bitcoins as an investment or for payment purposes you can use Bitcoin exchanges. For this you need to transfer back and forth bitcoins to and from your exchange accounts. In the case of Coinbase it is the only one that has this service integrated into its wallet and merchant products. On Coinbase you can easily buy and sell bitcoins directly from your account without having to move them elsewhere.
Link Bank Account: When you link your Us dollar bank account with your Bitcoin account you can easily move money between them. Coinbase is the only one that provides this feature. In the case of Bitcoin Core and Bitcoin Wallet you need to handle the dollar transfers and payments separately from your bitcoin movements.
Pay by Email: PayPal pioneered the ability to send and receive money using your email account. Coinbase is emulating this by providing the same functionality but with your Bitcoin account. By entering their email addresses you can send bitcoins to anyone and anyone can send Bitcoins to you using your email address too. On Bitcoin Core and Bitcoin Wallet your need to use the 30 character Bitcoin address instead.
Merchant Services: If you use Bitcoin Core and Bitcoin Wallet you can get paid when you sell products and services by providing your Bitcoin address. This is a 30 character code that anyone can use to transfer the digital currency to your account. In the case of Coinbase they have taken this further by providing “Buy”, “Subscribe”, and “Donate” buttons that are linked to your account. These buttons can be installed in your website so your clients can pay just like they would by clicking your PayPal or other payment buttons.
Web: Coinbase is the only one that has web based services. This means you can open your Bitcoin wallet and fully manage it and use all their services on their website.
Desktop: Bitcoin Core is only desktop based and it is the only one of the three with a desktop app. You can use it on any Windows, Mac, Ubuntu, or Linux computer. It takes 1 day or more to download because it includes all the historic Bitcoin transactions ledger.
You Control Private Key: To be able to transfer bitcoins in the network you need your public Bitcoin address and your private key which is secret. In the case of Bitcoin Core and Bitcoin Wallet your private keys are stored in the software and app which are only installed on your devices. This means they are not held anywhere else and you have exclusive control of your Bitcoin accounts.
They Control Private Key: In the case of Coinbase they control your private keys. This is because it is the only way they can serve as a gateway to the Bitcoin ecosystem and provide their value added services. It is more or less like a bank account: when you have dollar bills in your wallet you have full control of your money, but when you deposit them in the bank they have control of your money.
Bitcoin Core is considered the most secure and stable solution because users control their private keys and it is a node in the network. It’s downside is that it occupies significant space in your computer and it has less features than the other alternatives.
In the case of Bitcoin Wallet it is considered secure, users also control their private keys, and it is convenient because it is mobile and you can pay and get paid using QR codes.
Coinbase is as secure as the company and its technology are. Because users interact with Coinbase and thus indirectly with the network, they need to entrust their private keys to the company just like they would their money with PayPal or with a bank. Because Coinbase is compliant with federal and state regulations and counts with the support of important investors it is considered to be a safe Bitcoin service provider.
If you want to be part of the Bitcoin Network and maybe even are planning to provide Bitcoin services in the future, the best alternative for you is to use Bitcoin Core .
For those who want a high level of security, but at the same time convenience and mobility then Bitcoin Wallet is the most suitable solution.
For a simple and full service experience Coinbase offers the best alternative. If you want to easily open a Bitcoin account, use it on the web and on your mobile device, and maybe even sell your products and get paid in bitcoins then the Coinbase Wallet is the best way to start.