I enjoyed playing around with Netvibes. I had a customized start page years ago but abandoned it. I have also tried played around with widgets previously, putting them directly on my desktop. In the end, I find the start page a bit too distracting. When I get on the computer, particularly to work, I don't want to see all sorts of interesting things pop up that will lead me away from my objective. I have explorer set up with 2-3 tabs on both my home and school computers to take me quickly to the sites I use most. That works for me.
I can see that this might be an organizational tool for students, helping them quickly locate and check in on things they have to follow for school. I can also see that it could distract them from their work, as it does for me, especially if they load up their start page with a number of widgets, plus facebook, twitter, etc.
As with all technology, the start page is a two edged sword.