Three computers - an IBM PC and two Sun workstations-sit on the desk of molecular biologist Richard Roberts, assistant director for research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island. Roberts routinely uses all three in the course of a day, moving easily from word processing to a search of DNA and protein databases to a display of sequences, and to running simulation models of DNA methylases, special proteins that stop restriction enzymes from cutting bits of genetic material.

"I look at computers from a practical standpoint," he says. "I want to use them as tools."

But for Roberts, three computers are not enough. He longs for access to the connecting software and networks that would make it possible for him to work in a fully functioning electronic environment.

If Roberts wants to check the scientific literature for previous work on a particular chemical structure, for example, he must walk...

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