Google is harnessing the collective computing power of its users to help model complex proteins, a project that could lead to the development of cures for Alzheimer's, cancer, AIDS and other diseases.
The project, called Google Compute, lets select Google Toolbar users allow their unused computing time to be contributed to the nonprofit Folding@home project at Stanford University. The goal of Folding@home is to model the fundamental processes of life itself -- the geometric structure of proteins.
Google Compute is an example of distributed computing, a process that speeds up work on very large problems by dividing the work among many computers. Each individual computer downloads a small portion of a problem, computes results, sends these back to the main computers that manage the project, fetches another problem set, and so on.
Google itself is one of the largest distributed computing systems ever created, using more than 10,000 computers to power its search engine. The company is contributing its knowledge of distributed computing to assist the Folding@Home project, and plans to participate in other distributed computing programs in the future.
Google Compute is designed to be completely unobtrusive and non-invasive. It only works when your computer is idle, and won't affect your computer in any way. There's an "on/off" toggle that gives complete control over when the program is run.
Why would you want to participate in this project? Apart from the obvious satisfaction gained from helping contribute to some important scientific research, you can also check out "stats" that show how much you computer has contributed relative to other "Team Google" participants.
Google is rolling out the program starting today, but it's only going to be made available to about 500 hundred Toolbar users at first, according to Google spokesperson Nate Tyler. If the program is successful, it will be made available to all Google Toolbar users at some point in the future.
Stay tuned: We'll let you know as soon as the project is released to the entire Google community and you too can participate in the efforts to cure the world's ills.
Google Compute - Frequently Asked Questions
Answers to common questions about Google Compute -- except for how to sign up for the program if you're not selected for the trial group. You can't -- yet.
Team Google - Stats
See how much progress participants in the Google Compute project have made since the project's inception last summer.
The home page for the Folding@Home project, with links to detailed information on the project, stats, and a downloadable 3-D window/screensaver that allows the user to see the protein being simulated.
Yahoo Adds Search Features
Yahoo has introduced several new Search features, including expert picks and "cool site" results, the availability of PDF files, and file type markers.
"Cool sites" selected by Yahoo editors and marked with sunglasses have long been a hallmark of the directory. Now they're available in search results as well.
Yahoo editors are now listing PDF files in the directory, in addition to what has traditionally been just a home page or several key subpages for an entire web site. These are labeled with a red (PDF) symbol immediately to the right of a title, and appear both in directory listings and search results.
Finally, Yahoo now identifies file types from its Google-powered index with the addition of a simple marker to denote Word, Excel, PDF or other file types.
Yahoo continues to use a smaller subset of the complete Google index. "The size of the Google index that we use remains the same, however, we have decided to make some of the features more visible in order to continue improving Yahoo's search and directory services for consumers," said Yahoo spokesperson Diana Lee.
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