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Will PowerShell Core 6 fill in missing features?

Windows administrators will be in for some adjustments as Microsoft de-emphasizes Windows PowerShell and moves towards PowerShell Core, which currently lacks some key features.

Administrators who have embraced PowerShell to automate tasks and manage systems will need to prepare themselves...

as Microsoft plans to focus its energies in the open source version called PowerShell Core.

All signs from Microsoft indicate it is heading away from the Windows-only version of PowerShell, which the company said it will continue to support with critical fixes -- but no further upgrades. The company plans to release PowerShell Core 6 shortly. Here's what admins need to know about the transition.

What's different with PowerShell Core?

PowerShell Core 6 is an open source configuration management and automation tool from Microsoft. As of this article's publication, Microsoft made a release candidate available in November. PowerShell Core 6 represents a significant change for administrators because it shifts from a Windows-only platform to accommodate heterogeneous IT shops and hybrid cloud networks. Microsoft's intention is to give administrative teams a single tool to manage Linux, macOS and Windows systems.

What features are not in PowerShell Core?

PowerShell Core runs on .NET Core and uses .NET Standard 2.0, the latter is a common library that helps make some current Windows PowerShell modules work in PowerShell Core.

As a subset of the .NET Framework, PowerShell Core misses out on some useful features in Windows PowerShell. For example, workflow enables admins to execute tasks or retrieve data through a sequence of automated steps. This feature is not in PowerShell Core 6. Similarly, tasks such as sequencing, checkpointing, resumability and persistence are not available in PowerShell Core.

A few other features missing from PowerShell Core 6 are:

  • Windows Presentation Foundation: This is the group of .NET libraries that enable coders to build UIs for scripts. It offers a common platform for developers and designers to work together with standard tools to create Windows and web interfaces.
  • Windows Forms: In PowerShell 5.0 for Windows, the Windows Forms feature provides a robust platform to build rich client apps with the GUI class library on the .NET Framework. To create a form, the admin loads the System.Windows.Forms assembly, creates a new object of type system.windows.forms and calls the ShowDialog method. With PowerShell Core 6, administrators lose this capability.
  • Cmdlets: As of publication, most cmdlets in Windows PowerShell have not been ported to PowerShell Core 6. However, the compatibility with .NET assemblies enables admins to use the existing modules. Users on Linux are limited to modules mostly related to security, management and utility. Admins on that platform can use the PowerShellGet in-box module to install, update and discover PowerShell modules. PowerShell Web Access is not available for non-Windows systems because it requires Internet Information Services, the Windows-based web server functionality.
  • PowerShell remoting: Microsoft ports Secure Socket Shell to Windows, and SSH is already popular in other environments. That means SSH-based remoting for PowerShell is likely the best option for remoting tasks. Modules such as Hyper-V, Storage, NetTCPIP and DnsClient have not been ported to PowerShell Core 6, but Microsoft plans to add them.

Is there a new scripting environment?

For Windows administrators, the PowerShell Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE) is a handy editor that admins use to write, test and debug commands to manage networks. But PowerShell ISE is not included in PowerShell Core 6, so administrators must move to a different integrated development environment.

Microsoft recommends admins use Visual Studio Code (VS Code). VS Code is a cross-platform tool and uses web technologies to provide a rich editing experience across many languages. However, VS Code lacks some of PowerShell ISE's features, such as PSEdit and remote tabs. PSEdit enables admins to edit files on remote systems without leaving the development environment. Despite VS Code's limitations, Windows admins should plan to migrate from PowerShell ISE and familiarize themselves with VS Code.

What about Desired State Configuration?

Microsoft offers two versions of Desired State Configuration: Windows PowerShell DSC and DSC for Linux. DSC helps administrators maintain control over software deployments and servers to avoid configuration drift.

Microsoft plans to combine these two options into a single cross-platform version called DSC Core, which will require PowerShell Core and .NET Core. DSC Core is not dependent on Windows Management Framework (WMF) and Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) and is compatible with Windows PowerShell DSC. It supports resources written in Python, C and C++.

Debugging in DSC has always been troublesome, and ISE eased that process. But with Microsoft phasing out ISE, what should admins do now? A Microsoft blog says the company uses VS Code internally for DSC resource development and plans to release instructional videos that explain how to use the PowerShell extension for DSC resource development.

PowerShell Core 6 is still in its infancy, but Microsoft's moves show the company will forge ahead with its plan to replace Windows PowerShell. This change brings a significant overhaul to the PowerShell landscape, and IT admins who depend on this automation tool should pay close attention to news related to its development.

This was last published in November 2017

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