Microsoft’s mishandling of 8.1 is only the latest in a series of partnership blunders from the technology behemoth. The best thing Steve Ballmer can do before stepping down as CEO is build a development community around Windows 8, but what does Microsoft do? They snub their ISV partners by making the minor release available to them relatively late, and as an afterthought. (For the record, 8.1 is not just your average minor release. It fixes a number of things that make Windows 8 essentially unusable for enterprise customers.)

At the end of August, Microsoft declared 8.1 available to hardware manufacturers, but said the developer community would have to wait until mid October to get the much-awaited upgrade. In response to the predictable uproar from its application partners, Microsoft caved in just two weeks ago, announcing the availability of the release to manufacturing (RTM) version of 8.1 to TechNet and MSDN subscribers.

Microsoft isn’t giving the market a warm and fuzzy feeling; and enterprise customers would be wise to wait a few months before trying to do anything with either Windows 8 or 8.1. All this fumbling with release dates is a clear indication that, once again, the company so many people depend on, is patching things together at the last minute. Cascading effects down to hardware manufacturers and application developers mean end users are likely to get shoddy products for several months.

This is just the most recent of the gaffes Microsoft has made with partners in the last 18 months. Here are just three examples where the fickle tech giant has sent ambiguous signals to its allies:

  • In June 2012, Microsoft surprised hardware partners with the news that the software company would be marketing its own tablet. The move has done little to bring in new revenue to Microsoft, but it has done a lot to upset tablet manufacturers running Windows.
  • In the autumn of 2012, Microsoft left Nokia on their own with Windows Phone 7-based Lumia 900 and 710, by not providing an upgrade path to Windows Phone 8. Nokia had only recently abandonned Symbian for Windows Phone, and has fared so poorly in the switch, they can no longer hold their own in the market. They are now being bought out by none other than Microsoft - a move that promises to be one more source of angst for vendors selling Windows-based smartphones.
  • In early 2013, Microsoft contributed $2 billion to Dell’s efforts to go private. The prospect of Microsoft getting even closer to Dell hasn’t sat well with the likes of HP and Lenovo, who expect equal treatment from their common operating system partner.

IT directors need complete and stable products - and in high tech, that is only possible when solid vendor ecosystems deliver solutions to the enterprise customer.

Unfortunately, with the reputation they’ve been developing, Microsoft is going to find it increasingly difficult to attract partners. After all, who wants to go to the dance with a date who’s likely to leave with the first person to whisper promises in his or her ear?