Top 5 Key Takeaways From Ethereum’s Devcon4

From October 30 to November 2, iExec took part in the fifth edition of the annual Ethereum Development Conference (Devcon4) in the crypto-friendly city of Prague, Czech Republic. The team had the pleasure to sponsor this very special gathering. Let’s reflect on a week of invaluable lessons with the developer community and share our top 5 key takeaways from the conference.

SCALABILITY & OFF-CHAIN

Ethereum has a scalability problem. As it has become the network ‘du jour’ for developers to build on, so has the need to increase transaction volume without compromising security.

  • Vitalik Buterin took to the stage to present the next step for Ethereum V2 or ‘Serenity’. As the fourth development in the Ethereum roadmap, Serenity is about helping the technology realize the potential of a world computer.
  • Vlad Zamfir presented his CBC Casper Design Philosophy. Casper is the PoS protocol that Ethereum has chosen to go with.
  • ConsenSys, Compound, and POA Network announced today that they will be collaborating on an open-source Ethereum client called Mana. Written in Elixir, Mana can enable thousands of processes to run concurrently on the same VM, which is beneficial for scaling.

ENCLAVES & INTEL SGX

Enclaves provide a way to offload sensitive data processing to remote untrusted machines. Specifically, Intel® SGX technology was a hot topic at this year’s Devcon.

  • Microsoft released an enclave-ready Ethereum Virtual Machine. This contribution demonstrates how Trusted Execution Environments (TEE) like Intel® SGX can enhance the EVM with confidentiality.
  • Ledger is making a move from hardware wallets to virtual secure devices by utilizing enclave technology. The company’s plans to sell Ledger SGX wallets, that will be compatible with popular Ethereum wallets.
  • Golem presented their plans for working towards running arbitrary payloads in SGX enclaves.
  • Enigma, a protocol for privacy-preserving smart contracts, announced it is utilizing Intel® SGX as a foundation to create one of the world’s first public blockchains that supports privacy-preserving secret contracts.
  • iExec presented during the Security Breakout at Devcon to release and demo its End-to-End Trusted Execution solution. By relying on Intel® SGX, the owners of the computer performing computations cannot eavesdrop on the data being processed.

UX & DESIGN

dApps may be the future of the web, but as its stands, only a few thousand users reguarly engage with them today. This may be due to the complexity of Blockchain, the underlying concepts being only fully understood by the technically minded. Devcon4 though, saw the emergence of a newer topic of discussion: ‘user experience’. Since many projects now have at least an MVP or a working product, the human-centered approach to designing dApps is starting to pick up steam.

  • ConsenSys Design rolled out their web3 open-source design system. Called Rimble, the project aims to create common dApp design standards to address UX challenges in the ecosystem.
  • The Ethereum Name Service is one of the key projects that aim at simplifying the use of Ethereum by converting long and complicated hashes into simple memorable short names. Instead of writing 0x123…ABC, users may be able to simply write “me.somedomain.eth”, for example.
  • Universal Ethereum Logins can improve usability in Ethereum apps by removing a lot of the friction created by the usual login system. With a ‘UEL’, users are in control of their identity and any assets that are tied to them. Using the same login between different Ethereuem apps.
  • MetaMask introduced the rollout of their mobile browser for early 2019, filling a hole in the hearts of the mobile subset of Ethereum users, who have had little opportunity to freely interact with the blockchain ecosystem through their mobile devices.
  • This is also great news for iExec, whose products integrate with MetaMask. iExec has configured its marketplace to operate on mobile too, allowing users to follow the status of their worker machine or computational tasks straight from their mobile browser.

DEVELOPER EXPERIENCE (DX)

Devs are people too. In order to increase adoption and attract developers outside of the realm of blockchain, special attention needs to be given to the developer experience.

  • Embark, a framework by the Status project, introduced its latest version. The easy to use platform can be used to build the next generation of dApps and decentralized services.
  • POA Network has been building an Open Source EVM block explorer called BlockScout to solve Etherscan’s limited transparency and closed-source nature.
  • The Ethereum foundation released a new dev kit for iOS, allowing developers to easily use Ethereum smart contracts in their applications.

ENTERPRISE-GRADE ETHEREUM

Enterprises have very different needs from individual users on a peer-to-peer network. Enterprises need to manage sensitive data in high volume, track quality, and hold themselves accountable to safety and regulatory standards in their industries.

  • The PegaSys team is on the verge of launching of Pantheon Core, a new enterprise-grade Ethereum client. PegaSys built Pantheon to lower the barrier to entry for enterprises and accelerate mainstream blockchain integration.
  • EEA released the Off-Chain Trusted Compute Specifications V0.5 . This document specifies APIs that enable Off-Chain Trusted Compute for Enterprise Ethereum, to support private transactions, offload for compute-intensive processing and attested Oracles. iExec has been involved since the beginning in writing this specification and, alongside with Intel, has been one of its main contributors.

The Ethereum community and its developers will not just be left with the memories of a fantastic week in Prague, but with a reignited inspiration to continue working, collaborating, and BUIDLing solutions for a better future. During this week, between some of the innovative and pioneering actors in the space, hundreds of new connections and conversations were sparked. At iExec, we’re certainly excited to see where this leads! — We can only imagine what the space will look like one year from now.

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