Windows Insider

Is PowerShell Really the Only Future for Windows Admins?

Whether or not the future of Windows administration will be the command line, you're doing yourself a disservice by not at least strongly considering this possibility (and preparing accordingly).

Right now, you've got a choice if you want to remain relevant as an IT professional: Learn Windows PowerShell, or learn ‘Do you want fries with that?'"

These harsh but eye-opening words are attributed to Redmond columnist Don Jones, both my business partner at Concentrated Technology and a world-renowned Windows PowerShell trainer. In but a few sharp words, Jones asserts that Windows PowerShell is the undeniable future. And while it might have a learning curve, which technologies in IT don't?

Either figure it out, or find something else to do.

While "Jones' Dilemma" is particular to Windows PowerShell itself, its roots have me thinking even further out. His wisdom makes me wonder how Microsoft envisions its server OS into the medium-term future. As one ponders the advancements -- those both publicly heralded and others quietly updated under the covers -- one might connect the dots toward a future where the only Windows Server UI no longer offers the "G."

The Next Generation
That future state strikes sheer terror into the heart of many an IT pro, most specifically the newest generation. This latest class represents individuals who didn't feel the early pains of Windows. For an industry barely past its infancy, ah, how things have changed.

And yet the potential attributable to the command-line-only Windows Server is patently impressive. Check Task Manager on any freshly built Windows Server today and you'll find dozens of running processes, many of which exist merely to make things pretty for the eager mouse-clicking administrator. Run a network scan against that same server and you'll find dozens more ports open and listening.

Eliminating the Endpoints
Running Windows securely has long required a litany of third-party "security" solutions (quotes intentional), many of which exist for no more reason than to reactively protect OS endpoints that needn't be there in the first place. Eliminate the GUI, and you go far toward eliminating the endpoints.

Arguably, as Jones is known for pointing out, a command-line OS also substantially improves administrative efficacy -- but only if you know Windows PowerShell.

It's exactly those automations that make the command-line OS that much more powerful to its text-only shell elite. A competent scripter can create or modify 7,000 user accounts as quickly as seven. That same shell savant can validate a server's configuration with a keystroke, eliminating all the silly graphical crutches one requires to do the same with Windows Server today. Truly brilliant shell experts might wield thousands of

Windows Servers beneath their well-worn keyboard, returning the role of systems administrator back to its venerable roots in green-screen intelligentsia, rather than highly paid button-clicker.

All this might sound great if you're the grey-bearded mainframe guru, yearning for those good old days when servers were few and computers were science. But the other you, responsible for ensuring the datacenter runs the business, should pay respect to this potential command-line future. There simply isn't much of the intelligentsia to go around today, and one can bet that those remaining as part of it don't come cheaply.

That's why recognizing and acting now on Jones' Dilemma is so vitally important. Notwithstanding, if you're the systems administrator who's affected by the OS of the future or the manager in charge of them, that day just feels soon at hand. Everything about security and performance, administrative optimization and automation -- the entirety of what IT is all about -- seems to point toward the Windows of tomorrow being the Unix of decades ago.

Just in case it does happen, you might start prepping now. Those grease burns...well...they hurt more than your former career path could've ever imagined.

More on this topic:

About the Author

Greg Shields is a senior partner and principal technologist with Concentrated Technology. He also serves as a contributing editor and columnist for TechNet Magazine and Redmond magazine, and is a highly sought-after and top-ranked speaker for live and recorded events. Greg can be found at numerous IT conferences such as TechEd, MMS and VMworld, among others, and has served as conference chair for 1105 Media’s TechMentor Conference since 2005. Greg has been a multiple recipient of both the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional and VMware vExpert award.

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Dec 31, 2012 PSisBS citizenofreality

Snapins are the new DLL-Hell. Power Shell is cryptic, and inconsistent - exactly what you DON'T want in any type of shell or programming language.

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 Chris Thompson

If they were planning on making it the future and on making anyone from the Unix world comfortable, then they should have taken some cues from the Unix world on simplicity and elegance of syntax. Powershell script is exactly as cumbersome and cluttered as one would expect (considering the source).

Wed, Oct 26, 2011 Larry New England

Not too many years back Don Jones was lecturing on the use of VBScript, WSH, WMI, HTAs,etc. Similar words as I recall except for the fries remark which is one of the more condescending statements I've read in a long time. Microsoft wanted PowerShell to make the "old" Unix administrators feel at home. ;-) You want gravy on those fries?

Fri, Oct 14, 2011 Tom NY

I use PowerShell for SCCM, Hyper-V and lots of other stuff. Things I once relegated to the realm of C++/C# can now largely be done via PS. Very cool....

Wed, Oct 12, 2011 Jon

I don't think it's the end of the GUI, but you can't afford NOT to learn PowerShell. MS has been heading in this direction for a few years. For example, some operations in Exchange 2007 can only be done with PowerShell. Plus many vendors are providing modules/snapins for their products. I use PowerShell daily to manage VMware, Equallogic, NetApp, Exchange, AD.

Thu, Oct 6, 2011 Russell Stirling, Scotland

The command-line interface has always been behind GUI. Whether we could access it or not was another question. Some of you may remember when the command-line interface on teletypewriter machines (TTY) was a leap forward from punched cards. Then GUI was another step which opened computing to the visually oriented. Windows PowerShell is only necessary because some GUI programmers were sloppy and/or lazy. It won't be long before someone puts a GUI wrapper around Windows PowerShell. The advantages are too great to throw out with the 'bath water'.

Wed, Oct 5, 2011 Dave C. Ohio

Listen to some of Jeffrey Snovers interviews, or his Red Rock talk, the first ever Powershell conference, and you'll hear him talk about how to address change before it happens. . When business partners can sit down together and rake over future changes in systems before they happen - by giving people the actual command scripts. . As a result, you're given version control and an actual audit - of how production became what it is at what point in time. . Then I have to ask, would many really want to go back to the older WMI, in a do more with less environment ? . And last but not least (for me), Microsoft and many of its partners are writing a ton of cmdlets into their flagship software products. . Sit on the sidelines - or come - jump in the pool, every time you look, the water keeps getting better and better for this stuff called Powershell. (thumbs up) !

Wed, Oct 5, 2011

"The only advantage windows has is the interface" - I disagree. Windows has evolved into a very mature, stable, robust and secure platform for those who truly know how to leverage it. Unfortunately a side effect of having a usable GUI is that many don't understand how the OS fcts at the kernel/subsystem levels. Instead their click-admins happily clicking. Then when something goes wrong like it blue scrs (almost always due to 3rd party drvrs) or gets hacked, they complain it sucks. Case in point: Many years ago a small enterprise decided to install a 3rd party mail svr on their NT 4.0 box. So they clicked SETUP, took the defaults, installed the sw on the SystemRoot with all svcs running as Loc Sys - all ok in an ideal world but unfortunate mistakes in reality. It got hacked (due to buffer overflow issues with the SMTP svc) and was an utter disaster. It was later determined that it was due to the SMTP service, but alas the damage was already done and the perception was 'Windows sucks'. Now if it were a Unix system, there probably wouldn't have been a GUI install and so a bit more knowledge would have been needed to configure it which would have likely resulted in the system being less compromised. So the prob often is not the OS per se but the knowledge of the admins. Also crappy sw devs have traditionally released prods that reqd to be run as Admin and access areas of the registry they shouldn not. Also look at Vista, people said it sucked when it really didn't. Sure it was a bit of resource hog I agree, but was otherwise pretty cool. The main issue there was that 3rd party drivers were not ready causing all sorts of issues from blue screens to printers not printing multiple copies of a doc when told to do so. Anyway I cold go on and on.

Wed, Oct 5, 2011 Martin Phillpot Oxford (UK)

You're missing something. If we want to work on something with a command line we'll learn / polish unix and linux. The only advantage windows has is the interface, take that away and we might as well go with X.

Tue, Oct 4, 2011 karl prosser

On another note. Because of my PowerShell work (1 guy), i've already made redundant more between 15 and 50 "Blue Collar" IT Admins in the space of 6 months.

Tue, Oct 4, 2011 karl prosser

Constrasting Marco as another PowerShell MVP, i think the phrase "Would you like fries with that?" is perfect because even as hyperbole it narrows down the discussion to some hard truths, others like Jeffery Snover would use less extreme but still poignant metaphors like "White Collar IT and Blue Collar IT". Truth be told a certain percentage of IT admin jobs WILL disappear, many other "Blue Collar" IT jobs will remain but be lower paid, while a percentage of people will learn the skill-sets and migrate into more stable and higher paid "White Collar" jobs. Its just a matter of when and what those percentages are.

Tue, Oct 4, 2011 Matt Hitchcock Singapore

To perhaps put my end comment in context, Dons comments will also be coming from the absolute belief he has in PowerShell and its future, which I agree with, but the "would you like fries with that" is to the extreme.

Tue, Oct 4, 2011 matt hitchcock Singapore

I like the comment that the doom and gloom for non-scripters is still 5 years away, it acknowledges that it is still coming. There will come a point where managers will ask why more isn't being automated, why things take so long and why so many people are required to manage the servers. If the technology is there, then its the fault of the admin for not embracing it. That said, non-scripting admins will churn anyway due to retirement (at some point for everyone) or even career changes, also, PowerShell gets easier with every version (check out the syntax enhancements and autoloading of modules and cmdlets in v3). The point is, no one needs to panic, admins will evolve as the tools do, they just need to make some effort to keep basic skills up. With the greatest respect for Don Jones and what he does, he is selling training and books, of course he will play thebfear card.

Tue, Oct 4, 2011 Chris Brown

Marco's right. I'm a bog standard sysadmin but PowerShell is very helpful for me, administering around 100 servers. I know both SMB admins and enterprise admins who simply don't use it, yet they can do their jobs fine. It might take them longer, but they get it done, and they've got the experience to do it right. I'm a massive PowerShell zealot, I encourage everyone to learn it. I don't, however, agree that *not* knowing it will put you out of a job. My $0.02

Tue, Oct 4, 2011 Marco Shaw

Oh man... Not "Would you like fries with that?" again... I'm a 5-time PowerShell MVP recipient, and really, really hate this comment. There will always be both ends of the spectrum. Sure, if you can't script you might not be hired to work in one of those fancy new data centers by one of those really big companies, but you likely won't be putting on a McD cooking apron either any time soon either. I've worked in IT shops and have met very capable IT admins, who wouldn't touch a script to save their life, even in today's times... They still make an average admins IT salary. This doom and gloom stuff for non-scripters is at least 5 years away...

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