The garden designer’s computer – anything to keep out of the snow!

Snailman (sculpture by David Goode) in the snow

With snow thick on the ground I have been setting up my office, moving out of the lounge to a new desk in the reception room of the house, where my wife Chantal also works. Having just purchased a shiny new computer I thought it would be interesting for those starting a career in garden design to see how I am organising myself. I do not claim to be anything other than an experienced PC user, certainly not an expert and I await with interest the comments of any reader who is….although having bought it, any criticism is a bit academic now, for me at least.

My new machine came from Dell in France; my son, a computer professional with an honours degree in Web site design, Multimedia and Playing games, considers this company to be the spawn of the Devil, but you can’t please everyone!

For those who like to know about these things, or would like to compare my system with their own, this is the specification:

Intel core i7 processor ( 2,93Ghz, 8MB); 8MB memory 1333 DDR3; 2TB Hard drive; 1 GB graphic card (NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460) Windows 7 operating system (in French, which adds a whole new dimension to what was already a tricky transition from my previous system); CD/DVD/Blueray player and writers. I decided to recycle a Dell flat screen I am rather fond of rather than buy a new one and a Microsoft cordless mouse and keyboard (in English) although a French keyboard was thrown in.

Ice and snow in the woods of Chabris

It’s basically a multimedia / games machine, selected because I need speed and memory to use umpteen demanding programs at the same time and hard disc space to store all my drawings.

Apart from Windows itself, it came with no software so I have been hunting about in the loft and elsewhere, looking for installation discs and stored copies of all my favourites, with only partial success.

First I needed the internet and Chantal came up with the Orange installation discs which I passed a happy hour or so being rude to before Orange finally agreed to let me on line. We also use a Netgear router so that both Chantal and I can have the internet and with a little more swearing I had her PC and my PC wired in and the laptop running wirelessly. Next I wanted protection: ESET Smart Security immediately replaced the trial version of McAfee and I added Ad-aware, Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware, Spybot, SuperAntispyware, with Tuneup Utilities for luck( not that I’m paranoid, or anything!).

So far, so good but I needed a stiff drink and a lie down at that point, leaving the machine to download literally dozens of updates.

The next day it was the turn of communications, word processor and other essentials which required Microsoft Office, although my son begged me to use the free and much more trendy Open Office instead. A jolly hour or two later and I had mail coming in from all my email accounts. I do a lot of work with .pdf files so Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro was also an early installation. I transferred my custom dictionary, with thousands of correctly spelled plant names, from my laptop to Word on the new PC using a flashdisc. Again, the PC found a further few dozen updates and loaded them.

As a garden designer I’d be lost without my CAD software; installed to date are Autocad 10, TurboCAD Pro 16, Sketchup Pro 6 (all of these are about two versions out of date but good enough for the time being). Somewhere I have a copy of Vectorworks 8, but hunt as I might I could not find it. I do not use Vectorworks Landmark very often but students demand it so I like to keep in touch with the software; fortunately I have it on my lap-top. I did find several versions of the Australian equivalent called Landworks so, assuming they still install, I may add that later. I regularly use Photoshop so I have installed the CS5 version but could not find Indesign, which I occasionally use for Garden Design Academy leaflets. Again, it’s on the laptop if I need it. In the mean time a student of ours in the USA suggested we look at Realtime Landscaing software from Idea Spectrum, so I have requested a download copy to evaluate. Watch this space for a review.

St. Phalier's grape vines in the snow

A great deal of my time is devoted to the Garden Design Academy web site and for this I use Dreamweaver CS4. My son tells me the CS5 version is worth having but for now this will do nicely.

Installing printers is not an issue with Windows 7: you just plug them in and they work. I use an HP Deskjet 9800 for A4 and A3 printing, but have larger HP plotters printing up to A0 upstairs. The Canon digital camera was also instantly identified and I imagine the Wacom A3 graphics tablet will be to. This is such a great drawing tool (do avoid the smaller sizes) so I’ll try that in a little while.

The problem I am still wrestling with is what to do with documents. At the moment I have everything on two external hard drives. This is very handy because I can use them both on the laptop and the PC at any time. But hard discs don’t last forever, so it might be wiser to also have everything on the huge hard disc which came with the PC and use the external drives as security backup (Dell, God bless them, would like me to download and store everything on their server at great cost). I just wilt at the idea of transferring all those files but have a copy of Laplink Gold 12 and a special lead which makes automatic backups and speedy transfers relatively painless once the system is set up; I’m still considering this but have installed the software anyway.

The snow has stopped so we are off to walk the dog and reflect on how something as simple as the laying out of a garden could have become so technical, complicated and expensive.


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