Google also jumps into the distributed-computing-over-the-Net fray with The Google Compute Project. Its a feature of the Google Toolbar which utilizes the idle processing power of your computer (and other computers participating in the project) to perform calculations for a large research project.
The first beneficiary of this effort is Folding@home, a non-profit academic research project at Stanford University that is trying to understand the structure of proteins so they can develop better treatments for a number of illnesses. In the future Google Compute may allow you to also donate your computing time to other carefully selected worthwhile endeavors, including projects to improve Google and its services.I think its a nice gesture by Google to start out Google Compute with a project from Stanford. After all... Google started out from the same institution. Netizens who've been on the Net for a long time will recall the good 'ol days when Google was still google.stanford.edu.
The Google Compute feature of the Google Toolbar shouldn't affect your regular computing activities and you can easily disable it at any time for any reason.
For more information, check out the the Google Compute FAQs.