Getting A "Warm Fuzzy" Via Distributed Computing

A personal computer is great at crunching numbers - actually, when you reduce it to the basics that is all computers really do. Most home computers are also idle a good part of the time, and many folk leave them on 24/7 - wouldn't it be nice to do something useful with all that spare computing power?

There are several ways you can use your computer's idle time to do calculations that can help contribute to research in various fields. Perhaps one of the most well-known is SETI@home - by installing a small piece of software on your computer, you can help in the search for extraterrestrial life!

Another is Folding@home, which helps with research into protein folding in order to better understand some major diseases. This type of activity is referred to as distributed computing, as the workload is shared (distributed) across many individual computers.

All of these types of programs typically send small amounts of data to your computer which is then processed and sent back, ready for the next batch of data. By involving thousands of personal computers, the researchers can have the equivalent of a supercomputer working for them (for free) - and the computer owner basks in the knowledge that they are helping in some greater cause.

Speaking of which, other (perhaps more noble) causes can also be found at the University Of California Berkley website, under the BOINC banner. Here, you can see a substantial list of astronomical, medical and humanitarian research projects that you can become involved in. Pick one, download the software and get started.

These programs actually do not use much computing horsepower as you are only handling small amounts of data at a time, and they normally only run when the computer is idle, or when your screensaver kicks in. The software is generally available for Windows, Mac and Linux computers.

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