Ah, PowerShell. A simple blue window and some text has transformed the world of Windows administration from a point-and-click GUI to scripts that automate everything, provide log rotation and identity lifecycle management, and determine which server receives which updates.
Everything in the latest versions of Windows Server, as well as Microsoft 365, Azure, Intune, Viva, and all other cloud jazz, is accessed primarily through PowerShell and only secondarily (and sometimes not at all) through the server’s GUI or a web interface. That means knowledge of PowerShell has become a must. However, sometimes it is difficult to know if you are doing it correctly. Fortunately, there are resources available that can help you accelerate your education and professional responsibilities.
In this slideshow, I’ll highlight seven resources to immerse yourself in the PowerShell world. Whether you write scripts, work in a DevOps-oriented environment, or manage non-Microsoft software using PowerShell, there’s something for everyone in this group of resources. Best of all, they’re mostly free (as in beer), apart from two excellent paid products – one with a limited free version and one with a 45-day free trial.
What are you waiting for? Let’s dive in.
This story was originally published March 2015 and updated March 2023.
1. Ironman PowerShell Universal
PowerShell Universal is an incredibly useful administration and development tool that lets you build web-based PowerShell scripts and run them all from one place. Think of PowerShell Universal as a whiteboard for building scripts that include APIs (newly created APIs or APIs you build yourself), calling other scripts (including the built-in PowerShell cmdlets and scripts that come with many server applications), and delegating of capabilities to other administrators — the idea is that you have a central repository of administrative capabilities that are customized for your specific environment.
PowerShell Universal comes with a number of available templates to help you get started with various tasks, including managing Active Directory users and groups, building terminal-based user interfaces to more complicated scripts for handling various inputs and cases, converting C# code to and from PowerShell , and more. If you need to do it in PowerShell, this tool can probably make it look better, make it more accessible, and make it easier for your staff to use over and over again.
There is a free version that does not include business features, which is available for $500 per server (server is defined as where the scripts and server interface are hosted), with discounts available for more than one server. Available for virtually every platform, including Windows, Linux, Mac, and Docker.
2. ScriptRunner ActionPacks script collections
Sometimes, and especially if learning PowerShell isn’t your full-time job, learning other scripts is a quick way to get things done. You can see how another scripter created a tool, tweaked it and adapted it to your needs based on more focused research. another cmdlet so I can use the same approach with this set of data” – and significantly reduce your time to fully functioning script.
There are few better places to look for inspiration and example than ScriptRunner’s set of PowerShell scripts. There are over 1,500 scripts spanning topics such as Active Directory, Exchange, Microsoft 365, VMware, Windows Server, and more. They are all easily accessible on GitHub and free to download. Combine these example scripts with some automation and accessibility glue from the previously profiled Ironman PowerShell Unlimited, and you have a powerful foundation to begin your automation journey.
3. Visual Studio Code and PowerShell for Visual Studio Code
When I first wrote this story in early 2015, Visual Studio code was not yet born and the world was a dark place. Script editing was done in Notepad or third party text editors. The colors were pale. Food tasted bland.
Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but if you’re not familiar with VS Code, it’s Microsoft’s hugely useful and free code editor, a lighter but still powerful version of its powerful Visual Studio integrated development environment (IDE). VS Code contains many useful functions for manipulating and writing code and scripts, and the PowerShell for Visual Studio Code plug-in lightens up some special treats in the product for the PowerShell language, including syntax highlighting, code snippets, IntelliSense (to help you write the correct syntax in cmdlets in the context of the editor window), navigation features like Go To and Find for cmdlets and variables, local script debugging and – perhaps most importantly – a choice of color schemes.
Visual Studio Code is extremely useful to have on hand for many tasks, including quick text editing, marking up HTML documents, creating quick shell scripts, and more. The PowerShell plugin makes it all the more useful. Both are available for free and absolutely worth downloading and installing immediately.
4. Sapien Technologies PowerShell Studio 2023
More advanced PowerShell developers and administrators need more advanced tooling, and PowerShell Studio 2023 van Sapien is the first place to look. When you first open PowerShell Studio, you’re instantly reminded of Visual Studio, and with good reason: PowerShell Studio is as much an integrated scripting environment as Visual Studio is an integrated development environment.
Features include ribbon, support for remote debugging, compiler functions that let you turn scripts into executables, support for multiple versions of PowerShell (useful for targeting scripts to different servers with different levels of the Windows Server operating system), check-in source control, and out script code, and support for multiple developers. All this makes this an obvious choice for stores where admins and developers work together to build advanced PowerShell scripts to handle a variety of scenarios.
It’s a bit pricey: $499 per perpetual license, or you can subscribe for a year at $25/month or $250 one-time payment. And be warned: the installer says you need more than 5 GB of space to install it. (I guess it’s a good thing storage is cheap these days.) But given all the product’s features, if you live in this part of the PowerShell world, it’s well worth the price of admission, and you can take a 45-day test drive to see if it works for you.
5. Amazon AWS Tools for PowerShell
Since its release in 2006, PowerShell has become ubiquitous as a scripting language for administrative use in large server systems. Even a competing cloud service like Amazon Web Services recognizes that (a) Windows Server is huge, (b) many administrators are learning PowerShell, and (c) anything that makes it easier for administrators to manage Amazon services increases the likelihood that an Amazon server stay in a particular enterprise. So the AWS tools for PowerShell were born.
With AWS Tools for PowerShell, you can manage virtual machines and service instances running in the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), or write scripts that automate the management of all the workloads you run across Amazon services. The tools install a number of cmdlets in your PowerShell “sphere of influence” and let you manage and script tasks such as backing up data from virtual machines in EC2 to the Simple Storage Service (S3) or logging and publishing statistics to the personal Amazon CloudWatch dashboard .
If you know PowerShell and you use Amazon cloud services, these tools are a great addition.
6. PowerShell tools for Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code
Another useful package from Ironman Software is PowerShell Pro Toolsa software bundle that makes writing PowerShell code easier in both Microsoft’s main Visual Studio product and the freely available Visual Studio Code editor.
This project integrates into Visual Studio, brings syntax highlighting and coloring to the IDE, and adds IntelliSense support for auto-completing syntax elements such as variables, cmdlets, and arguments as you type in a Visual Studio window. It also extends options for configuring Visual Studio projects so you can keep your scripting efforts organized and together, extends support for scripting arguments with the MS Build compiler, and supports script debugging through support for breakpoints and breakpoints . It also extends some testing features with Pester and PSate test adapters.
For individuals, the cost ranges from $10 per month to a one-time $100 perpetual license; there is also an Ironman bundle with perpetual licenses for PowerShell ProTools and PowerShell Universal for $150. Prices are slightly higher for organizations: $20/user/month or $200/user for a perpetual license.
7. VMware PowerCLI
Like Amazon, VMware has found that in some ways it’s not a bad thing to be nice to your competitors for the benefit of your mutual customers. VMware has created just that PowerCLIa command-line based environment for managing VMware vSphere resources with PowerShell integrated throughout.
The PowerCLI environment is essentially a number of cmdlets that communicate with vSphere and vCloud. It also provides C# and PowerShell-based interfaces to the various APIs made available by the VMware products. If you are a VMware store and want to get your hands on PowerCLI, visit this link. Isn’t it wonderful when everyone plays together in the sandbox?
Free, with one free cmdlet reference also.
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