Nowadays computers are much more powerful than we usually need. Computer on my desk is faster than any super-computer 20 years ago. And what I'm doing with it right now? Running IRC-client, SSH-client and writing text with text-editor, using about 3% of my CPU-power. 97% of time processor is just doing endless loop, waiting for tasks to do.
But there is ways to use that CPU-time that is left over. From Internet you can download programs that do some heavy calculation on your computer when you are not using all of your computers capacity. After you have installed some of that kind program, it usually works like this: It download data from main server, do all calculations that is required, send result back to server and get more data to work with.
I've been using SETI@home since 30.6.2000 and United Devices since 13.12.2001 on two computers. Both programs are working perfectly on background. They are both working with Idle-priority, meaning that they only get that CPU-time which is not needed by any other program, keeping CPU-usage in 100% all the time. Alternatively those programs can be used as screensavers so they start data-processing after computer is not used at all in some minutes, and totally stop all data-processing when actual user continues his/her work. I use those as background programs all the time, but I've never noticed any kind of slowing down in other applications. Still, those programs have used years of CPU-time for their own (good) purposes.
This is like charity. You just don't donate money, you donate CPU-time. SETI@home have over 5 million users (2004) and UD have over 1 million users (2002) already. You can imagine how much data is processed every day around the world by all these clients :-)
I have own page for both clients:
SETI@home is trying to find "alien-messages" from radionoise recorded by observatories.
United Devices is trying to find cure to cancer.
2005-2006 update: I started using Boinc that combines many such idle programs (including SETI@home) under one Boinc manager. See my Boinc page.
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