As Habitat for Humanity and the Girl Scouts recruited students at North Carolina's Meredith College willing to volunteer their time, a team from IBM Corp. staked out the campus dining hall with a softer request, seeking only to borrow the calculating power of the students' idle computers.

"It's easy, which people like to hear," said Rebecca Thompson, a 20-year-old senior. "I'll be talking [to friends] and helping fight AIDS at the same time."

Thompson's college-issued laptop, when she's not using it for class, is part of the World Community Grid, an IBM-supported network that senses when private computers...

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