As Thanksgiving Break came to a close last Sunday, the new Bearings was put to its first test with the release of spring courses. The online academic management system has a history of quickly reaching its user capacity during periods of high traffic, causing the system to crash. This year's redesign allowed Bearings to better accommodate the rush of students.

Chief Information Officer Mitch Davis mentioned that, while the updated Bearings was not perfect, it performed better than it has in the past.

"It crashed once for two hours," he said. "I think [Bearings] went down at 10 p.m. at night. [Information Technology (IT)] reduced the load from 500 to 250 users."

"Just to remove any difficulty, we moved it down to 250," Davis added.

While this two-hour crash prevented many students from logging on, the system's performance was still an improvement from previous years. In the past, the release of schedules has overwhelmed the system.

"It's not going down every 15 or 20 minutes like last time," Davis said.

Davis acknowledged that the success of Bearings last weekend was under scrutiny by students and staff alike.

"We had people watching it as if it was their mother hen," he said, noting that a few people had called IT to mention that the system was down. However, the IT Help Desk did not receive complaints from students.

"We really didn't have anyone calling the Help Desk," he said.

This year, the Office of the Registrar did not tell students exactly when course schedules would be viewable.

A November 23 e-mail sent out by the Office of the Registrar to all students mentioned that course schedules would become available "during the evening of Sunday November 28, 2010."

Last year, the office specified a specific time at which course schedules would become visible, which resulted in the system being overloaded.

Bowdoin Student Government then sent out an e-mail to all the class lists at 2:39 p.m. with the message that class schedules were viewable. However, schedules had already been live for a couple of hours.

Charlotte Richards '13 said that she first viewed her courses at 1 p.m. on Sunday. "I wasn't really expecting it to be up yet, but it was," she said. "Then it didn't work at 5 p.m. when I tried to check which professors I had."

Davis pointed to a test that IT concluded on Bearings on November 4 as being helpful in gauging the capacities of the current Bearings system. IT asked students and faculty to log into Bearings during a three-hour period in hopes of simulating the rush of users logging on.

In an e-mail to the Orient, Davis reported that over 400 people logged in during the test period. According to Davis, the test helped show IT different tools it could use to manage concurrent users.

"[The test] allowed us to add more people," he said. "We thought we could have more [users] than we did."

The test came in the wake of a series of changes that IT made to Bearings in hopes of making the system more reliable and user-friendly. While these changes have been helpful to students, the eventual intent of IT is to replace Bearings entirely. In the meantime, IT has altered Bearings in hopes of increasing its functionality until a better system can replace it.

"The problem is, how much effort do we put in to maintain an old system?" Davis said.

Davis stated that he is still in the process of negotiating with two companies about installing a new system at Bowdoin.

Davis told the Orient in an October interview that a new system would take 12 to 18 months to install completely and could cost $1.5 million.

"We're hoping to have a decision by January," he said.

In the meantime, IT has made further adjustments to Webmail, the Bowdoin e-mail server.

At the start of the year, IT worked hard to switch the system from a 2007 version then in use to the updated 2010 version.

According to Davis, the purpose of the switch was to ensure that Mac and PC users experienced similar levels of quality from their e-mail service.

On Tuesday, IT installed a Microsoft Exchange patch that primarily affected the layout of the e-mail homepage.

An e-mail sent out to all students on Monday mentioned that the update gave Webmail "a more modern look and feel," and returned a number of minor "favorite features" to the interface.

The new Webmail also has layout themes apart from the default black and white Bowdoin theme. There are a variety of themes, including falling leaves, robot aliens and cats.

Tessa Kramer '13 said she liked the new e-mail format. "I think it's a little more fun and welcoming, although in terms of functionality, it is exactly the same," she said. "I didn't know that [Webmail] was going to change, so it was kind of a shock to the system," said Kramer.

Other students using different programs to access their e-mail were unaware of changes to webmail.

Alex Butler '14 said that he did not notice any changes because he uses Microsoft Outlook, while Ben Cedars '11 similarly expressed indifference to the changes because his Bowdoin e-mails are forwarded to his Gmail account.

The updated Webmail and Bearings systems come in conjunction with IT's effort to increase online storage space.