Mere days before the update (a hard fork of the code) was set to execute – a developer decided to effectively threaten to split the network – if he wasn’t paid in return that is. In a forum post published Tuesday, the sole maintainer of the Windows zcash wallet software, D. Jane Mercer, said he was going to cease development of the clients and release a zcash competitor “rebranded as another coin,” if he didn’t get further funding for his work.
See, last year Mercer was living off developer fees and donations for his work on the clients, but according to the post, the money had run out and he had been working for free for some time.
As such, Mercer decided to use the idea he might split the cryptocurrency as a way to air his frustrations.
On the forum, Mercer said:
“Altcoin drama rage quit hard fork, as it were. Pull a bitcoin cash, as it were.”
And this message sent some in the zcash community into a frenzy.
That’s because the Overwinter upgrade is scheduled to activate on June 25, but more importantly, that upgrade only adds limited features to zcash’s protocol in an effort to prepare it for the Sapling hard fork upgrade, which looks to make zcash more scalable and private, in October.
If Mercer stopped development on the Windows wallet software, the most popular zcash wallet software, “tens to hundreds of thousands of users” would have been left without a workable wallet after the Sapling upgrade.
So, even though, blockchain splits have become, according to some, a healthy mechanism for asserting opposition of any decentralized cryptocurrency development, others do fear that these competing coins have the potential to split the community into fighting factions that confuse users.
“It might be as simple as pay the man,” zcash engineer Ariel Gabizon said.
And payment came. The zcash community quickly stepped to financially support the developer after the threat – at least for a little while. The amount donated to Mercer by several anonymous zcash addresses is currently at 80 ZEC, around $15,360, according to current metrics.
“People have thrown enough in the kitty for a few months living expenses, so that’s all well and good,” Mercer told CoinDesk.
No more coexisting
Stepping back, though, it’s notable in how the features packaged in the Overwinter hard fork made the theoretical hostage situation more dire.
One reason is that most developers support forks. While potentially disruptive to crypto economies, the guiding ethos is they allow a novel form of financial freedom. If users don’t like what is going on with zcash, they have the ability to create another instance of the software.
This is different, proponents say, than traditional money systems. (Try as some might, you can’t exactly fork the U.S. dollar and the elaborate banking system that enables it.)
In this way, Overwinter prepares the network for further upgrades and the potential for future hard forks. Not only does Overwinter add so-called “replay protection,” but it also eliminated some code called “auto-senescence,” which causes nodes running older versions of the software to shutdown after a period of 16 weeks.
As such, zcash isn’t able to support multiple iterations of the protocol, even if, after Overwinter, it will.
Mercer had prepared for this removal of auto-senescence, and instead kept that feature into the newest version of his wallet software, so that the software would eventually expire. But if the users stayed on the old version of the client, it would cause a chain split, Mercer continued…