9 PowerShell tools and resources

Since it was introduced in 2006, PowerShell has, in the words of Computerworld, "transformed the world of Windows administration from a point-and-click GUI to scripts that automate everything, as well as provide log rotation and identity lifecycle management and which server receives which updates."

PowerShell lets you automate everything, from cleaning your Active Directory (AD), to querying your servers, to backing up your systems, to scanning your networks for vulnerabilities. Long story short, PowerShell does a lot. But what if I told you it could do more?

It can. Computerworld released a slideshow of the top nine "resources for immersing yourself in the PowerShell world." We know slideshows are annoying, so to save you the effort of flipping through slides, here's what you need to know.

1. Dell PowerGUI

  • What is it?: If you're new to PowerShell, PowerGUI has everything you need to make a smooth transition. It offers "a visual complement to PowerShell [and] ... makes assembling scripts and getting things done as simple as selecting cmdlets that are appropriate for your task and then dragging them into place."
  • Best feature: PowerGUI comes with something call Power Packs, which are pre-built "scripts that have been open-sourced by the user community." Functions range from scripts that help with network switch management to cleaning out your AD. You can also customize and alter each pre-built script to fit your needs.
  • Price: Free.

2. Sapien Technologies PowerShell Studio 2015 

  • What is it?: After you've spent some time on PowerShell, you know what you can do – and you know what you can't do fast. PowerShell Studio offers you "more advancing tooling ... [and] is as much an integrated scripting environment as Visual Studio is an integrated development environment."
  • Best Feature(s): "Ribbon, remote debugging support, compiler features that let you turn scripts into executable files, support for multiple versions of PowerShell (useful for targeting scripts to different servers running different levels of the Windows Server operating system), source control for checking in and out script code for multiple developers ..."
  • Price: But because there's so much, there's a price to pay: $389 per license.

3. Amazon AWS Tools for PowerShell

  • What is it?: If Amazon wants AWS to succeed, it has to accommodate all these admins with an easy tool to manage AWS services that integrates with PowerShell. And boom – you have have the wonderfully named Amazon AWS Tools for PowerShell.
  • Best Feature(s): AWS Tools for PowerShell gives you the ability to "manage virtual machines and server instances that are running in the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), or write scripts that automate the management of any workloads you have running in a variety of Amazon services." It does this by giving you a lot of cmdlets.

4. Microsoft Script Browser

  • What is it?: You know what you want, but getting there is a big question mark. That and debugging are the most common problems among PowerShell users. Microsoft's Script Browser is a "free magic tool" that scours the TechNet Script Center "and finds scripts that purport to do what you need."
  • Best Feature(s): The Script Browser not only puts a wealth of prewritten, community-tested scripts in your hands (or within your searching abilities), but it also has has a "built-in Script Analyzer function that will read through your scripts and suggest improvements or changes to make based upon scripting best practices."

5. Adam Driscoll's PowerShell Tools for Visual Studio

  • What is it?: Adam Driscoll's PowerShell Tools for Visual Studio bring PowerShell capabilities to Visual Studio. If you're working with developers (or in DevOps), this tool can be incredibly helpful.
  • Best Feature(s): It "brings syntax highlighting and colors to the IDE, and adds IntelliSense support for automatically completing syntax elements like variables, cmdlets, and arguments as you type within a Visual Studio windows." But wait, there's more: Driscoll's Tools also gives you the ability to better organize scripts, has tools to help debug your scripts, and has "some testing features with Pester and PSate test adapters."

6. Microsoft Windows PowerShell Web Access, via Control Panel

  • What is it?: It's like "webmail but for PowerShell cmdlets." By letting you "log into a webpage that presents a Web-based console where you can run cmdlets, perform operations and do simple administrative tasks," PowerShell Web Access is PowerShell's older, online brother who got a Facebook account before it was cool.
  • Best Feature(s): It's PowerShell on the Internet and works on any computer you call it up on. That means "you can run PowerShell operations from your iPad." One cautionary note: By enabling this feature in your Control Panel, you are "opening up this facility to users outside your network." That's a security problem, but you can restrict access by IP address and otherwise to remediate against problems.
  • Price: Free.

7. PowerShell Training via the Microsoft Virtual Academy

  • What is it?: A training program that has "hours of video training on getting to know PowerShell, using it and making the language work for you."
  • Best Feature(s): Once again, it contains "hours of video training on getting to know PowerShell." Whether you've just started out on the road to mastery or you're well on your way, this is a good resource that ranges topics from syntax, to the nuances of the PowerShell language, to exploring just what you can do.

8. Master-PowerShell, an ebook from Dr. Tobias Weltner

  • What is it?: If you hate videos or exclusively save your YouTube time for stuff like this, then feel free to pick up this book. It's filled with lessons, explanations, and introductions to "variable arrays and hashtables, the pipeline, objects, conditions, loops, functions, scripts, error handling, scope, text and regular expressions." You'll also find lessons on "XML, administrative work using a file system, Registry, processes, services, event logs, WMI and users."
  • Best Feature(s): It's an ebook filled with everything you need to know.
  • Price: It's hosted on Idera "and can be found over on the PowerShell.com site, which is a useful community resource in its own right.'

9. VMware vSphere PowerCLI

  • What is it?: PowerCLI is fully integrated with PowerShell and makes managing VMware vSphere resources easier. It gives you cmdlets, an interface "based on C# and PowerShell for the various APIs that are exposed by the VMware products."
  • Best Feature(s): If you're using VMware's products, then everything about PowerCLI is a best feature. If you're not using VMware products, then it's useless to you.

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