Stepping Up to Scripting
Admin wants to move up the experience ladder and learn scripting.
- By Bill Boswell
I'm a relatively experienced Windows and NT administrator
who wants to get my skills to the next level by learning scripting. I
know that there are a lot of scripting languages out there. I'd like some
advice on which one to choose and how best to get started.
Chuck: You're making the right career choice, Chuck, because
a thorough knowledge of scripting will enhance your career as an administrator
more than just about any other single skill. You'll not only learn how
to do your job more efficiently and effectively, you'll learn more about
the fundamental operation of the operating system and network as you gain
experience writing scripts.
The choice of a scripting language depends quite a bit on how portable
you want your skills to be and how much help you expect to get in the
way of example scripts and so forth. Opinions vary widely. Here's my take
on the subject.
Help from Bill
Got a Windows or Exchange question or need troubleshooting
help? Or maybe you want a better explanation than provided
in the manuals? Describe your dilemma in an e-mail
to Bill at mailto:email@example.com;
the best questions get answered in this column.
When you send your questions, please include your
full first and last name, location, certifications (if
any) with your message. (If you prefer to remain anonymous,
specify this in your message but submit the requested
information for verification purposes.)
If you are primarily a Windows administrator and you anticipate only
working in a Windows environment for the next two to five years, then
VBScript is probably your best choice. It has a wide range of capabilities,
it's simple to learn and you'll have lots and lots of company to turn
to for advice and pointers and sample scripts.
VBScript is not the best choice, though, in situations where you need
to feed more than a few arguments into the script or you need to implement
a complex flowpath. Also, the file-handling syntax in VBScript will make
you want to curse in many languages, not just programming ones. If you
start with VBScript, you can graduate to Visual Basic .NET to build handy
little GUI-based utilities and to do Web interfaces, but once again, you're
tied to a single platform family.
Web-based tools. So does Perl. Both are devilish to learn but once you
master them, you'll have a skill that can be used outside of Windows in
the event that you want to expand your marketability.
Personally, I really like Python. It's simple
to learn, completely intuitive, amazingly flexible and pretty darned fast.
Python has only just started to claim mindshare in the Windows world,
but look for it to start gaining lots of support as people discover it.
Bottom line? Learn VBScript for down-and-dirty Windows jobs and Python
for cross-platform, enterprise-class work.
To learn VBScript, start with the Windows
2000 Scripting Guide from Microsoft Press. It was written by "The
Scripting Guys" at Microsoft and is a truly indispensible resource.
The presentation is conversational, the scripts really work, and the examples
are clear and practical.
To learn Python, I'd start with Core
Python Programming by Wesley Chun. The online documentation and
tutorial is also terrific. A great free tutorial called "A Byte of
Python" is available at http://www.python.g2swaroop.net.
You might also want to check out the online Safari library at http://safari.oreilly.com.
For a few dollars a month, you can browse and search a whole bookshelf.
I use this resource constantly.
Hope this helps.
Contributing Editor Bill Boswell, MCSE, is the principal of Bill Boswell Consulting, Inc. He's the author of Inside Windows Server 2003 and Learning Exchange Server 2003 both from Addison Wesley. Bill is also Redmond magazine's "Windows Insider" columnist and a speaker at MCP Magazine's TechMentor Conferences.