Whatever one might think of SETI or UC Berkeley and the idealists who work there, one cannot deny that BOINC is a remarkable outcrop of SETI@Home, SETI’s effort to distribute computing over millions of computers all over the world.
SETI@Home led to Folding@Home, Stanford’s wonderful effort to distribute the significant computing effort of the bioinformatics of protein folding. By now, there are countless other @Home projects of this sort, like Einstein@Home (for astronomical calculations) and BelgianBeer@Home (which doesn’t specify what its computers do). A fairly long listing can be found here.
Now, BOINC is a general schema that runs on all platforms and can be used by anyone to start a distributed computing network. Whether you want to spend a little bit of electricity every month to donate your computer’s idle moments to a cause, or whether you want to harvest the computing power of others for your own cause, BOINC is available.