HOW TO: PC controlled bench power supplies

Hi there, I'm a software developer who has a project in mind that, in my simple world, should be easy to accomplish with today's availability of
technology. However, my knowledge of all things electrical is so pathetically dismal that I'm not sure where to start.
What I want to do is use my PC to influence several different power outputs. That is, I want to control the voltage, current, frequency, etc. dynamically, and I want to do this simultaneously to different power outputs. The software to do this isn't a problem since I want to write my own anyway, but I need to find some sort of RS232/USB/Serial/Parallel-port interface to SOME kind of hardware that can do this.
I could be using the term wrong, but I believe creating a power supply that is variable like this is called a "bench" PSU. I'm unsure about the specifics of whether I need AC or DC, but my very embarrassing blind-spot of knowledge tells me that I will need DC or "step AC". *blushes profusely*
I was hoping this group could point me in the direction of some kind of ready-made product or even a TERM to refer to what I'm talking about, but it seems like using PC's to control power delivery just isn't done. Am I off base?
I know that naiveness can irritate a group of professionals, so I apologize for mine
Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.
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I am by no means an expert oh this topic, pretty much all of the DC powers supplies that are used in our Automated Test Systems are controlled using a General Purpose Interface Bus which (this is where I could be totally wrong) use an IEEE card in the PC and connects to the supplies through their GPIB. The engineers use LabView to control the supplies like turn the output, set the voltage, and current limit. Like I said I am in no way an expert, but I have seen DC supplies controlled using computers. These other smart people in here could help you out alot better than I can.
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Wow. You've provided the very help I hoped for
You've pointed me in the direction of National Instruments & LabView, who have a very helpful presentation on PACs (Programmable Automation Controllers), a convergence of technologies (of the modern-day PC and the 70's-era PLC). This is EXACTLY what I need.
Does anybody have recommendations on consumer-priced PAC technology?
I'm trying to build a web interface to several analog devices which may be adjusted for speed, light level, angle, etc, as well as digital devices like fixed-brightness lights which need to turn on and off, etc. I'm a strong .NET programmer, so I merely need a hardware platform and API to code against.
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     snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com writes:

It would be a good idea if you said what you want to use this power for.
--
Andrew Gabriel

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It sounds like you are wanting to enter the world of 'SCADA'
'Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition There are a lot of industrial protocols and interfaces out there but they are very expensive.
Interfacing to the parallel port by hobbyists is very easy. Are you looking to develop a commercial product?
Newsey

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