In its purest form, the concept behind "distributed computing" is simple: People lend their unused computing power to a collective cause, which can be anything from cracking World War II encryption to global warming and the search for UFOs.
The key is making sure that it's done right and with consent, as well as easy to join. A non-profit organization called Grid Republic is trying to provide a safe and accessible way to do just that in its effort to create a massive supercomputer that can work on public research projects.
The platform for participation is a custom screensaver, which Grid Republic says won't affect a computer's performance any more than an ordinary one. Perhaps most important, people who wish to donate their processing power might find more psychological comfort with a screensaver that shows how their computers are being used, rather than downloading other types of software that "run in the background"--a practice that sounds increasingly pejorative in an age of spyware and malware.