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TOR was developed by guys from the Naval Research Lab. Onion Routing in general was developed by DARPA. The point is that these were born out of the government. Funded initially by them too. TOR is not backed by a non-profit corporation. There are millions of users of TOR. It is mostly used to give privacy to Instant Messaging, Chat, and web browsing.
Some machines out there only accept TOR connections. These are called Hidden Services. You can use Tor2Web, which allows you to access TOR from a normal browser without setting up a TOR network connection. Or you could opt for the dedicated TOR Browser. It is a modified version of FireFox that starts TOR background processes automatically. Some downsides of this browser are that it blocks Flash and Quicktime.
Using TOR slows you network access. You do get a circuit established through the TOR network for your use. The circuit lasts for about 10 minutes. It also can paint a target on your back, as inquiring minds can know that you are using TOR. The EFF recommends that you use TOR. It is like a replacement for everyday VPNs. TOR is limited to TCP Streaming data.