The password isn’t “open sesame” but the new cyber-gateway into Harvard databases still seems like something of a marvel (at least to the non-techies among us).

Paul Martin, dean for research and information technology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, has announced the release of the “” World Wide Web portal page. is designed to make it easier for individuals throughout the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to access the information they need to plan their daily activities. Proposed and supported by the faculty’s information technology committee to meet the diverse academic and non-academic interests of undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty, and staff, the portal provides a collection of tools and services that can be tailored to meet individual preferences.

“As it is enhanced and expanded,” Martin said, “we hope the portal will become the unifying element for digital communication throughout Harvard. We believe that the inaugural version, developed by Harvard Arts and Sciences Computer Services, takes a major step in this direction.”

Initiated when the benefits of portals were less apparent in the commercial sector and at universities, uses official University databases to provide automated entry to specific courses, relevant lectures, and announcements, as well as to general academic tools (dictionaries, search engines, and calendars), news, weather, shuttle schedules, and dining hall menus.

Because individual portal pages incorporate schedules, addresses, and links to other private information (e.g., student grades), access to each individual’s portal page requires a Harvard ID number and a personal identification number (PIN). PINs are distributed securely by the Harvard ID Office. “We look forward to the portal becoming every individual’s home-and-away-from-home page,” said Jeremy R. Knowles, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Access to applications under development by the registrar, student advisement information, and course registration will all be accessible through the portal. Elements of the instructional computing group’s toolkit for instructors will also be available. Mechanisms for distributing important announcements and information for subscribers are also planned. Elements of the portal can be repositioned, collapsed, expanded, or removed in accord with individual preferences.

Calendars are a key part of the portal. The personal calendars that users create are stored on central servers. They can be set up to repeat events, to send e-mail reminders, and to display images and text. Students and faculty can automatically overlay their class schedules by clicking a button.

Entries from Harvard public events calendars can be instantly merged with personal calendars. The FAS communications office is helping departments to set up calendars with similar overlay capabilities. Student clubs and teams will also be encouraged to set up their calendars this way. A built-in calendar management page will help users select events from the maze of Harvard happenings. Synchronization with popular appointment calendars and palmtops is also being explored.

The portal uses ID numbers and PINs to identify the departments (and other units) to which graduate students, staff and faculty members belong. It also identifies undergraduates’ academic concentrations and the dormitories or houses in which they reside. The initial view of each portal is tailored to this profile. Users can add to and adjust what they see. Naturally, information such as student schedules and grades and faculty course data remain restricted. Users can also view and – in the very near future, will be able to correct through the portal – their home and office address information. Portal configurations are saved on central systems and allow the portal to be viewed from any machine on the Web with the aid of secure PINs.