Bitcoin Quotes from the Ethereum Whitepaper

The Ethereum Whitepaper’s History section has good information on Bitcoin:

From a technical standpoint, the ledger of a cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin can be thought of as a state transition system, where there is a “state” consisting of the ownership status of all existing bitcoins and a “state transition function” that takes a state and a transaction and outputs a new state which is the result

The “state” in Bitcoin is the collection of all coins (technically, “unspent transaction outputs” or UTXO) that have been minted and not yet spent

If we had access to a trustworthy centralized service, this system would be trivial to implement; it could simply be coded exactly as described, using a centralized server’s hard drive to keep track of the state. However, with Bitcoin we are trying to build a decentralized currency system, so we will need to combine the state transaction system with a consensus system [mining] in order to ensure that everyone agrees on the order of transactions.

An important scalability feature of Bitcoin is that the block is stored in a multi-level data structure. The “hash” of a block is actually only the hash of the block header

The purpose of the Merkle tree is to allow the data in a block to be delivered piecemeal: a node can download only the header of a block from one source, the small part of the tree relevant to them from another source, and still be assured that all of the data is correct.

in general, there are two approaches toward building a consensus protocol: building an independent network, and building a protocol on top of Bitcoin. The former approach, while reasonably successful in the case of applications like Namecoin, is difficult to implement… The Bitcoin-based approach, on the other hand, has the flaw that it does not inherit the simplified payment verification features of Bitcoin… Blockchain-based meta-protocols, on the other hand, cannot force the blockchain not to include transactions that are not valid within the context of their own protocols. Hence, a fully secure SPV meta-protocol implementation would need to backward scan all the way to the beginning of the Bitcoin blockchain to determine whether or not certain transactions are valid.

Currently, all “light” implementations of Bitcoin-based meta-protocols rely on a trusted server to provide the data, arguably a highly suboptimal result especially when one of the primary purposes of a cryptocurrency is to eliminate the need for trust.

without any extensions, the Bitcoin protocol actually does facilitate a weak version of a concept of “smart contracts”…even the basic public key ownership mechanism is implemented via a script: the script takes an elliptic curve signature as input, verifies it against the transaction and the address that owns the UTXO, and returns 1 if the verification is successful and 0 otherwise… one can construct a script that requires signatures from two out of a given three private keys… Scripts can also be used to pay bounties for solutions to computational problems … one can even construct a script that says something like “this Bitcoin UTXO is yours if you can provide an SPV proof that you sent a Dogecoin transaction of this denomination to me”

However, the scripting language as implemented in Bitcoin has several important limitations

we see three approaches to building advanced applications on top of cryptocurrency: building a new blockchain, using scripting on top of Bitcoin, and building a meta-protocol on top of Bitcoin… With Ethereum, we intend to build an alternative framework that provides even larger gains in ease of development as well as even stronger light client properties