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Why I will buy an iPad, and think you should too

TJ Luoma, @tjluoma

Cory Doctorow doesn't like the iPad because it is laden with DRM. In other news today: water is still wet.

Joel Johnson and John Gruber already took apart one aspect of Cory's argument, the kid tinkering/creating with his new computer.

I'm going to focus on another part of it: my mom.

Last year my mom called me and wanted to buy a new laptop. Her old e-Machine, which I had routinely patched, updated, and kept going as long as I could, would no longer work.

She saw a US$400 laptop in the Sunday paper and asked me what I thought about it. I told her that she would be much better off spending more and getting a refurbished MacBook. She bought the $400 laptop anyway.

When I asked her why, she said that someone at work told her she couldn't take home files from work if she had a Mac. When I asked her what kind of files, she said "Oh, mostly Word and Excel." She was surprised when I told her that not only was there a version of Office for Mac, but it was actually newer than the Windows version.

The computer came with Vista but without Microsoft Office, meaning that she couldn't bring home Word and Excel files. She hates Vista. She's called me three times in the past few weeks because her laptop won't get on her Wi-Fi network. Last night she said, "I'm beginning to think this laptop was a huge mistake." Because I'm a loving son, I didn't say "I told you so."

My mom doesn't care whether the iPad is held together with glue or screws. She don't care about schematics. She wants it to work. Most of the time she does one thing at a time on her computer: email, with the window fully maximized; Word/Excel files, with the window fully maximized; looking at pictures of her grandchildren, with the window fully maximized.

I don't think Cory should buy an iPad. He'd hate it. Cory is many things, but a "normative user of consumer electronics" isn't one of them.

The first real computer that I owned on my own was a NeXTstation, followed by an Intel OpenStep machine. I used them for as long as I could, but you know what was the hardest thing I ever had to do with them? Configure a dialup PPP connection so that I could get online. Meanwhile, those who had picked up a copy of Windows 95 were typing in their name, email address, and the phone number their ISP gave them. While they were online, I was writing chat scripts and reading verbose pppd logs trying to figure out why it wouldn't work, and whether I needed to use CHAP or PAP.

I finally ditched that computer when I realized that I was spending more time getting it to work than working on it. I bought a Dell Inspiron 7500 with Windows 2000 on it, and was twice as productive as I had been on my Unix system.

I eventually moved to Mac OS X for the same reason: I could get more done on it, more easily, without worrying about Windows' inherent insecurity or spending all of my time tinkering with a Linux system.

That doesn't mean I love DRM. I wish Apple would use less of it. It can be a pain in the ass, and it's the most cumbersome part of my Mac/iPhone life. I had my iPhone apps wiped once when I synced with the "wrong" computer. I agree that if I was a kid I would want to buy printed comic books and trade them with my friends. But I'm 37 now, and I worry more about "where am I going to put this when I'm done with it?" than "who am I going to trade this with?" Not to mention that the nearest comic book store is over an hour away.

I still buy most of my music and movies on CD/DVD so I can make my own DRM-free copies. When I download a book from Audible the first thing I do is rip it to CD and then re-import it DRM-free. And I still buy dead-tree books if I think it's something I want to loan or give away when I'm done with it.

Friends and family who switch from Windows to Mac consistently tell me that it was much easier than they thought it would be and they enjoy it much more. These same people would never in their wildest dreams think about installing GNU Linux, even though it's "free" -- because they wouldn't be able to use it.

The iPad is going to be great for those people who want a device that lets them do a specific set of things. It would work great for my Mom, although I'm not sure I can convince her to buy one. It will work great for me and for what I want to do. Cory shouldn't buy an iPad, but Cory's reasons for not buying an iPad only really apply to a very small percentage of people. Those people are not stupid for not wanting to tinker with the iPad; they're just not interested. They have other ways they want to spend their time.

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