Ethereum is the new and improved crypto currency that is often called Bitcoin 2.0 – except it allows you to do more through its internal programming language, so it isn’t just a currency it is a lot more.
In a lot of aspects Ethereum is similar to Bitcoin, you can mine it, it operates off a blockchain, and you can trade its underlying currency unit the Ether (ETH), but in a lot of other ways it is a platform for building applications that go beyond Bitcoin. In this way it is creating its own distributed financial ecosystem.
Ethereum was conceived in 2013 to bring crypto currency to the next level with Vitalik Buterin leading the charge. The idea was to fix some of the problems that Bitcoin was known for, such as the long confirmation times and the centralisation incentive of mining via pools which leads to the possibility of selfish mining and 51% attacks.
Ethereum raised approximately $25million in from its crowdsale in 2014 and since then has been developing its own blockchain and Proof of Work, as well as its own internal programming language that allows for a variety of complex instruments and platforms to be created on top of it – such as CFD’s and decentralised autonomous organisations.
Ethereum went through a vigorous testing phase called Olympic. The Frontier release that came out on the 30th of July 2015 reset all wallets back to the post fundraising meaning any transactions carried out in the Olympic phase were annulled. There are further planned releases that build on the Frontier Release, namely Homestead, Metropolis and Serenity - all expected to gradually make Ethereum more user friendly for the layman (at the moment its very technical).