Ripple allows payments to any Bitcoin address straight from its client

Remember OpenCoin’s Ripple, the distributed currency exchange that’s trying to court the Bitcoin crowd? Well, the Google(s goog)-backed venture is stepping up that mission with a new feature called Bitcoin Bridge, which makes it easier to pay people using the crypto-currency.
Bitcoin Bridge, announced on Tuesday at Bitcoin London, makes it possible to pay any Bitcoin user straight from the Ripple client, with money going in as traditional currency and coming out as Bitcoin. According to Chris Larsen, CEO of OpenCoin, it serves as a “powerful demonstration” of what Ripple can do:

“Now, anyone can send Bitcoins without having to use a central exchange. At the same time, any merchant accepting Bitcoins now has the potential to accept any currency in the world.”

It’s quite simple to use: enter a Bitcoin address and choose how much you want to send and in which currency. The conversion takes place fee-free, and OpenCoin is positioning it as ideal for merchant payments, money transfers and remittances.
While this may prove to be a useful step in giving Bitcoin some much-needed respectability, in a sense Bitcoin isn’t actually the most interesting element here. Pull away, and you can see Ripple as part of a new wave of international money transfer companies that take traditional banks out of the equation, saving money for users.
That said, Ripple’s adoption will most likely come first from the Bitcoin scene, where OpenCoin’s system stands as a rival to the likes of Bitpay and the decidedly creaky-looking Mt. Gox.