Case Studies in Going Viral

Let’s look at some famous software packages and see how they perform on the viral curve.

Office 2007-2010-2013

Some will argue that Office is the best-selling word processor/spreadsheet/presentation program on the market today. And they’d be right.

But is it experiencing viral growth? No.

Is it intuitive to use? Heck no! (Personal axe to grind here.) I was very used to Office 2003. I still have it on several computers at home. (I admit it, I’m a geek, I have four running desktops at home, work and personal laptops, an iPad and an Android phone. Not counting my kids’ devices.)

Migrating to Office 2007-2010-2013 was painful. I will give them credit, when I give up searching for my favorite features and pull up Help, the directions are quick and easy to follow.

But why change? Millions of people were used to how Office worked. Why introduce the Ribbon? What problem(s) were they trying to solve? Why the hell did they move all my favorite features to obscure places???

When you’re the big gorilla in the room, you can get away with a lot. But it’s NOT how you start out and go viral.

Windows 8

OK, this is almost too easy. Who has picked up a computer with Windows 8 and found it intuitive and easy to use? Does it operate the way you want to do things?

Or does it have a logic of its own that you must figure out?

And what the hell happened to the Start menu?

When I was doing antivirus software, the interest in Windows 7 was astounding. It fixed the problems with Vista while keeping the cool features. The number of people we worked with who were beta testing Win7 and planning upgrades was staggering. Our software HAD to be Windows 7 compatible before Windows 7 was even released!

That OS worked the way people wanted to operate. They were familiar with XP, they were familiar (but unhappy) with Vista. They liked the cool features of Vista but hated the bloat. And the blue screen of death. So voila! Windows 7! Vista without the problems! Plus better security. IT managers SWARMED to Windows 7—at least those who weren’t constrained by the economic crash. This is an excellent example of an intuitive evolution of software versions.

What happened when Windows 8 was released? IT managers stayed away in droves. If it wasn’t for new computers being force-fed Windows 8 I think it would have been still-born.

Has Windows 8 gone viral? No.

I won’t go into the Microsoft philosophy of developing software, and whether they are trying to create their own paradigm, or or or… The big question is, is the software intuitive to use?

The market has said that Windows 8 is NOT an intuitive progression for users.


Create a software program to manage money that looks like a check register. Be able to do the things you always wanted to do with managing money, and it’s not hard. What a concept.

I was an early user of Quicken, from way back in the Windows 3.1 days. It was the first time I was able to balance my checkbook on the first attempt. I have used it ever since.

Intuitive for users? Pretty much.

And they don’t try to reinvent the wheel with each new release. Take note, Microsoft.

Excel and Word (first versions)

I remember attending a conference and the speaker was presenting data on an XL spreadsheet. Turns out it was Excel, but I didn’t realize the correct name at the time. He was singing the praises of this new spreadsheet program during his presentation.

A loyal Lotus 1-2-3 user, I said to self, “Self, forget about it. Lotus is the king. XL isn’t going anywhere.” How wrong I was!

How did they do? Last I heard, pretty good. How did they do it? Huge leap forward in functionality, and the program did what Lotus users WANTED to do. It was intuitive to users. Granted, you had to be familiar with a spreadsheet, but once Excel got rolling, it took off like gangbusters.

Frankly, I think it was Excel that launched the entire Office empire and wiped out Lotus 1-2-3, Freelance, Word Perfect and a host of other wanna-bes. (In the day, I found Freelance much better than Powerpoint and did not like Powerpoint, so it wasn’t Powerpoint that won the day).

As for Word, brilliant move, they had a Word Perfect emulation mode. You could use Word but have it look and act like Word Perfect! How brilliant is that? One wonders about copyright infringement, but this is a study on making software intuitive for users.

Last I checked, Microsoft Office took over the market.


There’s a slew of other examples in history. When not mandated by government decree (i.e., having to meet compliance laws or similar), those programs that have succeeded did so because they matched the natural inclinations of the customer, or did it better than anyone else.

Naysayers will point out that AutoCAD succeeded due to great marketing, because the product wasn’t all that great. I will agree. The product was good enough and the rest was won on marketing.

There are three pillars to going viral: great product, great marketing and great support. Great marketing is perhaps the strongest pillar and can overcome un-great products, but start with GREAT products and great marketing will take you viral like those success stories you’ve seen. Can you say iPod, iPhone or iPad?

If you want to achieve viral growth, create a product that is intuitive for CUSTOMERS to use.

Good hunting!


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