Can CalCentral bring us into the 21st century?

CalCentral/Courtesy

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One of the most surprising things about attending one of the world’s most acclaimed universities is how antiquated some of the online technology is. It only takes a fleeting glance at the disgusting 1990s-looking Tele-BEARS or BearFacts to realize that the general Berkeley area seems immune to the rest of the world’s progression into the age of digital advancement. Now, with the fall beta release of CalCentral, UC Berkeley seems to be breaking out of its seemingly perpetual resistance to online change.

What is it?

Think of it as a viable homepage that connects all of your UC Berkeley resources. Instead of having to pick between bSpace, bMail or any of your other frequently used portals, this site can suffice as a functional alternative with easy access to anywhere relevant to your school life. The top panel has quick links to all the Google-inspired apps — which are cleverly prefaced with a “b” to make it seem like they are officially affiliated with Berkeley — such as bMail, bCal and bDrive. Additionally, there’s a somewhat useful student summary and a maddeningly unhelpful settings page that lets you link your bConnected profile.

The secondary panel has a link to your academic summary, which lists your college, major and class standing, along with your status with the university requirements and your current semester enrollment. The “My Campus” tab is a link hub that branches out to the rest of the websites that are stuck in the past. And the dashboard, the default page is reminiscent of WordPress in that it has widgets of events, classes, groups, tasks and recent activities.

Why do we like it?

The feel of it. It certainly has a sleeker, more modern-looking touch that definitely outstrips anything we’ve mentioned above. It’s better than bSpace’s slightly revamped interface, and it definitely allows more interconnectedness. The addition of a task list, while nice, is somewhat redundant with the calendar integration. It’s also nice that you don’t have to visit ScheduleBuilder to find CCNs any longer, and the links to bSpace are expected but not necessarily helpful. Perhaps the best thing is that you can add your own personal Google account to CalCentral, so if you forward your mail and use a different calendar, it’ll be an easy transition. It’s also quite friendly to your mobile device, whereas bSpace was notoriously not.

What don’t we like?

Unfortunately, this list far exceeds that presented in the previous paragraph, which can be chalked up to high expectations. The system still lacks some basic functionality, such as being able to move panes around and creating email notifications for any changes that would be reflected in each widget. Having essentially no settings is indicative of a system in its early stages, and perhaps more will be rolled out upon the full release next spring.

We believed that CalCentral had the potential to be the center of an ecosystem that it created with full bSpace, ScheduleBuilder, BearFacts and course catalog integration. To use an analogy along the lines of Android, its ceiling was the Halo multitasking (if you don’t know what or how awesome that is, Google’s a thing) — we imagined it opening up other Berkeley sites within the same screen without having to go elsewhere. CalCentral has cool stuff, but most of its reliability is shot because it links you to external platforms, which have the rather low bar of Tele-BEARS support to live up to — similar to an Android homescreen that needs to launch different apps, each which may or may not be quite as good.

What started off as a rather promising concept hasn’t lived up to the months it’s taken to develop, and we’d advise you not to hold your breath if you don’t yet have it. Word is out that the full release will have CARS and MyFinAid added in, but we’re not quite sure whether that means simply adding a link to those respective portals or actually integrating it within the interface. We know you’ve suffered for a long time — what’s a few more months?

Contact Uday at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @mehtakid