I was sent this question in email:Why can't somebody just create a version of the software that gives you extra bitcoins?
... and couldn't find a good, non-geeky answer in the FAQs. So I wrote one
When you spend some bitcoins, the software on your machine has to prove to the software running on everybody else's machine that those bitcoins are valid.
How does it do that? Well, it is a little bit complicated; you've got to understand how bitcoins are created, and how they are traded.
First, how they're created: 50 bitcoins are created approximately every 10 minutes. Everybody who is trying to create bitcoins is in a race to try to find those 50 bitcoins; they are really hard to find, but, once found, it is easy to verify that, yes, indeed, your bitcoin software found them, so you get to spend them.
Second, how they're traded: Imagine you did find 50 bitcoins (well, your computer found them by running the bitcoin software for a few months or a year– they are not easy to find, and are harder to find the more people who are looking for them). You trade them to me by sending them to my bitcoin address. Inside the software, a messages is created and then broadcast to everybody that says “These 50 bitcoins that we all agree are valid are hereby officially traded to somebody else (me– well, one of my bitcoin receiving addresses, actually).”
Now I've got them. If you try to trade those same 50 bitcoins to somebody else, it won't work– everybody running Bitcoin sees all the trades, so if you try to spend the same coins a second time everybody else's software will reject your attempt to cheat.
And that's it– that's how it works. Bitcoins are scarce because only about 50 are created every ten minutes. And you can't claim to have more than you really have because everybody else can check to see if your coins really were created by the “race” process, or if they were from valid trades.