Reports of an update for IBM's Lotus Connections software have been circulating since early 2009. Many analysts talked of a major upgrade that would instill the suite with some substantial social functionality for the first time. After surveying the new Lotus Connections 2.5 that was released today, we can confirm those reports.

IBM has seriously improved their offering when it comes to a comprehensive platform for enterprises. While it's not exactly the bleeding edge, version 2.5 has taken software that was really behind the times and transformed it into something that shows real promise for enabling collaboration. Lotus Connections is now available for download for both customers and business partners.

New Features Galore

The latest release of Lotus Connections is anything but incremental. There's a large checklist of added and enhanced features below, but what it basically boils down to is that IBM has revamped the entire package into something resembling a comprehensive platform for creating and sharing information in the workplace.

While the first iteration of Connections from 2007 included profiles, bookmarking, and blogs, much of the functionality was quite rough. Things like the "dog-ear" system of bookmarking failed to really catch on, and the platform still lacked wikis and other basic tools. New things to note in 2.5 include:

  • Home pages with news feeds of activity. These pages sit somewhere between a Facebook News Feed and a personal watchlist in a wiki.
  • Richer personal profiles. IBM has added something they call microblogging, but it's really more akin to Facebook status updates than a system like Yammer or Socialtext Signals. [Disclosure: Socialtext is ReadWriteWeb sponsor.]
  • Wikis, which (unbelievably) are entirely new to Connections. These bear a close resemblance to the "workspace" style of wiki found in Socialtext and Confluence.
  • File sharing, which sports a nice new interface.
  • Mobile support for iPhone and Nokia s60 phones.

The last feature upgrade is to Communities. The ability to create groups of users existed before in Connections, but now any of the features listed above, plus the blogs and to-do lists that previously existed, can be added to a group to create a custom mix that suits the needs of members. Communities also include widgets you can add easily, though why IBM didn't make them OpenSocial gadgets is puzzling.

Will IBM Continue to Play Catch-up?

It might not be shocking to point this out, but the more agile young companies like Jive, Socialtext, and Atlassian have long had many of the features that IBM is just now adding to Lotus Connections.

Other IBM products have had bits and pieces, but nothing really all-embracing. Quickr, for instance, has had a rudimentary wiki. That's also an example of how overlap has long plagued IBM's software for business users.

As Jon Mell of enterprise consultancy Headshift pointed out in his preview of Connections 2.5, IBM has a reputation for coming late to the game and then shooting past the competition (WebSphere Application Server is an example). The real question is whether the same pattern will play out in the enterprise collaboration space.