Since personal computers first came into widespread use in the early 1980s, they have become essential for virtually all scientists. The best thing about these now-ubiquitous machines, aside from their ability to revolutionize research, is that as time goes by, they continue to get faster, smaller, and--relative to their power--cheaper. And with this increasing power, and the new software that it fuels, will come additional fundamental changes in the way scientists work.

Advancing technology already has blurred the distinction among types of computers. As the machines are refined even further, it will become less important to scientists whether they are working on small or large computers; the operations will be the same from the user's end.

For the next few years, at least, scientists will continue using desktop computers that can be connected to larger computers. However, Bill Joy, vice president for research and development at Sun Microsystems Inc. of...

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