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When proteins are created, they undergo a complex process known as folding, so-called because the protein molecule transforms from a long chain of amino acids to a complex shape (it "folds up"). The final shape of the protein is absolutely critical to determining its properties and function. Scientists have created software to simulate the folding process to better understand how proteins work, which in turn makes it possible to develope new drugs, cure diseases, etc.
Folding@Home is a project from Stanford University that uses millions of networked PCs to form a supercomputer for protein folding simulations. The client software is loaded on a PC, it contacts the central servers, and receives "work units". The client then runs on spare CPU time, and uploads finished work units to the server.
Folding@Home is a great way to make your computer do useful work even when you're not using it. Since it runs at a very low priority, you should never realize it's running when you're using the computer to do your work. Note that "using the computer" refers to doing heavy computations. Generally, tasks like web browsing and word processing involve very little CPU usage, so the Folding@Home client will be running at near 100% even when doing those kinds of tasks.
The following script will download the latest client from the Folding@Home website, and install it to /opt/foldingathome. It will ask you to set up the client (the defaults are usually sufficient), and copy that configuration for every CPU in your machine.
It is not possible to provide a .deb package for Folding@Home, because the client must be downloaded from Stanford's website. This is to ensure the integrity of the research.
Save these scripts to the same directory, and name them folding_install.sh and foldingathome, respectively. Then do
chmod 500 foldingathome folding_install
to make them executable. Finally, do
to install the client.
Some people don't have root access to their computers. To accomodate them, a way to install to the $HOME directory should be added.
There should be a way to easily uninstall the client.
Folding@Home is secure. The Stanford team has gone to great lengths to ensure security, both for the integrity of their research and the safety of donors' computers. However, the more secure the better. The Gentoo ebuild for Folding@Home creates a new user foldingathome whose sole purpose is to run the client. I will add this feature in the future.
A competitive folding@home team has formed to represent the Ubuntu community and organize to have fun while doing some good. The team number is 45104. To join the team, simply enter 45104 when the setup dialog requests a team number. Those wishing to get optimal performance from their folding box should review the Hackaday blog entry on competitive folding linked below.