The Linux Foundation has partnered with twenty companies on a major collaborative project called Blockchain, which aims to build an open source distributed ledger system and enable Bitcoin-like transactions for the business world at large.

Distributed ledgers are databases that keep track of transactions without the control of a central authority. Instead, they rely on peer-to-peer networks to distribute public records of the transactions. That way, it's clear who owns what without the need for centralized regulation.

Distributed ledgers are a key part of the technology that makes cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, work.

The Linux Foundation's move to create an open source distributed ledger system through Blockchain doesn't mean the organization wants to back Bitcoin. On the contrary, mention of Bitcoin was notably absent from the official announcement of the new project, and there is no direct connection between Blockchain and Bitcoin.

But the project does mean that the Linux Foundation and its partners see real value in an open source distributed ledger that would make it possible for ordinary businesses to conduct transactions using something like Bitcoin.

"The distributed ledger is a permanent, secure tool that makes it easier to create cost-efficient business networks without requiring a centralized point of control," the Linux Foundation said in announcing the Blockchain project. "With distributed ledgers, virtually anything of value can be tracked and traded. The application of this emerging technology is showing great promise in the enterprise. For example, it allows securities to be settled in minutes instead of days. It can be used to help companies manage the flow of goods and related payments or enable manufacturers to share production logs with OEMs and regulators to reduce product recalls."

Jim Zemlin, Linux Foundation executive director, said, "Distributed ledgers are poised to transform a wide range of industries from banking and shipping to the Internet of Things, among others. As with any early-stage, highly-complex technology that demonstrates the ability to change the way we live our lives and conduct business, blockchain demands a cross-industry, open source collaboration to advance the technology for all."

Accenture, ANZ Bank, Cisco, CLS, Credits, Deutsche Börse, Digital Asset Holdings, DTCC, Fujitsu, IC3, IBM, Intel, J.P. Morgan, London Stock Exchange Group, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MFUG), R3, State Street, SWIFT, VMware and Wells Fargo have indicated "early commitments" to support the Blockchain project, according to the Linux Foundation.