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Microsoft has released version 1 of Bletchley template for Azure, which lets users create a distributed-ledger, or blockchain, network with minimal knowledge of Azure or Ethereum, a crowd-funded, cloud-based public software project. The new release of Bletchley cuts the three-week process of setting up an Ethereum network to “eight questions and 5-8 minutes,” said Marley Gray, principal program manager of Azure blockchain engineering, in a blog post.

“The promise that blockchain has to revolutionize how business and individuals trade value over the internet is staggering,” Gray wrote. “The atom has been split, so now the race to take advantage of it begins.”

Popularized by the bitcoin digital currency, blockchain is a composite of existing technologies that lets multiple organizations track the sale, purchase and ownership history of anything of value — manufactured products, of course, but also titles, mineral rights, deeds, even votes, as explained in this Microsoft whitepaper. Each item to be tracked is assigned a unique identity, and each sale, purchase or other transaction affecting the item is recorded in an electronic ledger. Entries can’t be erased or altered. Rather, a compensating transaction must be posted to correct any mistake. So the ledger — actually a very simple database — theoretically provides irrefutable proof of the item’s status.

Microsoft also released new information about cryptlets — components that developers can build in any language to address specific functions essential to building distributed ledger-based applications. These include encryption, time-based event publication and access to external data. In a detailed whitepaper, Gray laid out the range of types and functions of cryptlets, explaining that they “exist . . . to provide integration, secure execution, privacy, interoperability, management and a rich set of data services.”

Microsoft debuted Project Bletchley in June, as one many tech firms and startups bringing blockchain technology to market. IBM began offering blockchain services on the IBM Cloud in February. Amazon Web Services in May said it would partner with New York City-based Digital Currency Group to provide blockchain as a service, according to Forbes.

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