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Has PowerShell's time come for Windows admins?

While some have been reluctant to accept Windows PowerShell as a vital management tool, new releases prove that Microsoft's command-line shell technology is here to stay.

Up to this point, Windows PowerShell has generally divided administrators into two camps – those who love it, and those who avoid it at all costs.

Microsoft's commitment to PowerShell, however, cannot be questioned. Originally released in 2006, the company's command line shell technology has proved popular to those who prefer working with scripts to the sleek look of a GUI.

The latest version, PowerShell 2.0, comes out-of-the-box with Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, and it's expected to play a major role in more Microsoft releases down the line. Even so, many administrators have been slow to accept PowerShell. The question is, why?

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"I think some of it has to do with general misconceptions about what PowerShell is and what it isn't," said Jeffery Hicks, an IT consultant, author and PowerShell MVP. "I've come across a lot of administrators who see it just like a Unix shell language and go 'Oh, I don't need that, I already have Perl.' They don't realize that PowerShell is a completely different type of shell than what they have used in the past."

Hicks said that another reason some people have yet to adopt PowerShell has to do with the change control processes of different companies, noting that implementing new products in some environments "takes an act of God or congress." Still, the simplest reason could be that there just isn't enough time in the day for some administrators to learn a new technology like PowerShell.

"Admins always have more work to do than they can possibly get done in a day," Hicks said. "Ironically, PowerShell is a tool that would help them do their jobs better. But it's kind of a catch-22; they can't get up to speed on PowerShell because they have so much to do, but if they actually used PowerShell, they'd have the time to do it."

Windows administrators might be obligated to make time, however, as every indication from Microsoft is that PowerShell isn't going anywhere. Keith Hill, the founder and coordinator of the PowerShell Community Extensions (PSCX) open source project, said admins are starting to see the writing on the wall.

"There's been a lot of activity around PowerShell on twitter and some of the expert sites ever since Windows 7 [was released to manufacturing]," he said. "There are so many technologies coming out of Redmond these days that I think some folks were a bit circumspect as to whether [PowerShell] would stick. But with this 2.0 release I think Microsoft has proven with Powershell that, yes, this technology is here to stay."

With this 2.0 release I think Microsoft has proven with Powershell that, yes, this technology is here to stay.
Keith Hill
Microsoft MVPWindows PowerShell

Hicks agreed that for those who have avoided PowerShell up to this point, now is the time to learn, citing that Microsoft has committed to PowerShell as its management tool going forward. "Whether you like it or not, in another couple of years, if you want to manage Exchange Server or SQL Server or any Microsoft product, you'll need to do it through PowerShell," he said.

That doesn't mean administrators will be limited to a command prompt, however. In most cases, PowerShell will be built underneath a graphic user interface, as Microsoft did with Exchange Server 2007. Still, Hill said that administrators shouldn't be fooled into thinking that they can hide from PowerShell behind a GUI.

"GUIs are great for sort of an initial transition into using something, and for single usage," he explained. "But if you have to do things for a lot of different items, then sitting there clicking and clicking on the GUI gets really old. That's where you'd really love to automate things; where you have to do it ten, 100 or even 1,000 times."

Hicks added that while some people will always need a GUI (interns and entry-level admins for example), the interface can be rather limiting for experienced administrators. Using Exchange Server 2007 as an example, he said that while there are some tasks that can be done from both the GUI and the command line, it's not the case with everything.

"If you want to do a very complicated task, you would have to do that through a PowerShell session. So administrators who know how to do that, those are the people who will have a really valuable career," Hicks said.

As PowerShell continues to find its way into more and more areas of Windows, it could begin to draw a wider line between those who use it and those who don't.

"There are some people who won't really start taking to PowerShell until they are just given a graphical frontend," said Hicks. "But the administrators who understand the console and can write a PowerShell expression, those are the people who will really get the most out of it, and I'd like to think that in a couple years, those are the people with the skill set that will be most valued by their companies and managers."


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