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Inspired by the success of alien search project SETI@home, a group of US companies has launched fee based distributed computing venture, hoping to tap into the unused power of idle CPUs.

Distributed Science, United Devices (launched by David Anderson - who launched the SETI programme) and Parabon plan to divide mammoth computing tasks into smaller chunks and farm them out to thousands of client PCs via the Net.

The SETI@home project was massively successful, salvaging over 300,000 years of computing time in its first year, according to New Scientist.

Individuals will be paid for their computer's time - calculated in MHz hours, and the companies estimate that the average user will make at least $10 per month.

Distributed Science says that it will use the computing power to model protein folding, test circuit designs, run fluid dynamics models all much faster than possible using a single super computer. Distributed Science reckons that with the people already signed up, the network has twice the power of the new ASCI White super computer from IBM.

According to New Scientist Distributed Science claims 39,000 individuals with 77,000 computers have signed up so far.

Paranoiacs can relax too: the communications will be protected by 128-bit encryption, so it should be pretty secure. However, it seems companies whose data is at risk from corporate espionage - such as large pharmaceuticals - are still not satisfied with the security arrangements so aren't taking part.®

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