Author Archives: Don Jones

About Don Jones

Don Jones is a Windows PowerShell MVP, author of several Windows PowerShell books (and other IT books), Co-founder and President/CEO of PowerShell.org, PowerShell columnist for Microsoft TechNet Magazine, PowerShell educator, and designer/author of several Windows PowerShell courses (including Microsoft's). Power to the shell!

PowerShell.org Free eBook Transition


Over the past few weeks, Matt Penny has been busy moving our free eBooks into their new home on Penflip. Code, when available, is located in our GitHub repo, and modules will soon be available in the PowerShell Gallery for downloading via Install-Module.

Penflip is a Markdown-based editing system backed by GitHub. This means anyone can contribute corrections, additional material, and so on – which will make it easier to maintain these great books over time. You can download ebooks directly from Penflip in a variety of e-book formats. We’re now focused on electronic formats, rather than traditional page-based layout, although PDF is still an available download option if you want to make a hardcopy.

The conversion from Word to Markdown was challenging and largely manual, so if you run across formatting problems (especially with code), we absolutely appreciate your help in fixing those. Simply “branch” the book, creating your own copy of the project. Make corrections, and then submit those back to the master branch. Approvals are manual, so give us a few days to review what you’ve done and merge it into the master.

Massive thanks to Matt for all the long hours making this conversion happen, and to the folks who’ve submitted cover art for the new books.

Our eBook Transition – and Your Chance to Contribute!


We’re in the process of migrating our free ebook collection over to Penflip, an online, Git-based collaborative authoring and publishing tool. Matt Penny has taken the lead in converting our Word documents to the Markdown syntax used by Penflip, and as you can see on our ebooks page, most of the titles now have an initial version in Penflip.

One neat thing about Penflip is that anyone can register for a free account, fork one of our projects, and make their own modifications. You can then submit your changes back to the master branch, so we can incorporate your changes into the ebook. This will make it easy for everyone in the community to suggest new content, offer corrections, and so on. I encourage you to help out – right now, you may simply notice some flaws from the semi-automated and fully hellish Markdown conversion, and we’d love your assistance in correcting those.

Penflip also supports on-demand downloads of each ebook in a variety of common formats, including EPUB, PDF, and more. That means you’ll always be able to grab the latest version of your favorite ebook. We’ve not yet migrated the source code that goes with some of the ebooks; the plan is to move those into our GitHub repo over the next week.

Penflip will be enabling the next generation of our ebooks, including a massive new DSC title I plan to begin working on in 2015.

Thanks for any help you can provide, and I hope you continue to find the ebooks helpful!

Let’s Make a PowerShell Job Interview Quiz. C’mon and Help.


The folks at Smarterer have agreed to let us – that’s all of us, as in “The PowerShell Community” – build a sort of “exam” for people to prove their PowerShell Proficiency. And I need your help to do it!

Step 1, you need to be pretty decent with PowerShell yourself. Not Level 12 Guru Level, mind you, but you should be working with it daily. Most of this book should make sense to you.

Step 2, you need to download my Quiz Question Writing Guide (It’s all of 1 page) and Topic List. PowerShell Quiz Guidelines is the download. Go on, I’ll wait.

Step 3, you need to sign up, using your e-mail address, and let me know you’re interested in helping. What you’re volunteering to do is, over the course of February 2015, write at least 20 questions. That’s about 2 questions per category. You’re also agreeing to help peer-review the questions other folks write, so we can spot the stinkers. Signups are due by January 20th 2015.

<blink>Go here to register!</blink>

BTW, 20 questions total is only about 1 per day. You could totally do 5 per day if you made an effort. Think about PowerShell questions you’d ask during a job interview, to tell if someone knew their stuff or was merely a poser. We cannot have too many good questions. 

Now for the good news there are prizes! Pluralsight is offering a prizes to the top net question contributors (“net contributor” means the number of questions you write that survive peer review and are accepted by the Quiz Captain).

  • 1st place: $200 Amazon gift card and 6 months of access to the entire Pluralsight library
  • 2nd place: $100 Amazon gift card and 3 months of access to the entire Pluralsight library
  • 3rd place: $50 Amazon gift card and 1 month of access to the entire Pluralsight library

We’re also looking for a Quiz Captain, so when you register, indicate if you’re willing to take on that role. There’s only one, and you’re exempt from the prize (that’s what you get for stepping up). You’re in charge of final acceptance on all questions that go into the final pool – not so much for technical accuracy, but for being well-written.

Disclosures: You’ll be using an online authoring tool called Flock, which means your registration e-mail address (which you provide) will be provided to Smarterer, so they can load you into the tool and send you an access invite via e-mail. Your e-mail will also be used to contact you about the project, and regarding any prizes you may earn.

WHY? Well, the idea is that we’re all getting to a point where we’ll need to hire PowerShell sk1llz. Rather than us all concocting our own job interviews, this’ll act as a kind of central, crowdsourced job interview you could direct a job candidate to. Yes, some of you will also ask for a more in-depth interview, perhaps offering a coding challenge or something – that’s awesome. This is just the first stage you could use. The exam will be available free of charge to anyone who wants to take it, anytime, ever. And it can be updated and evolved as the technology, and our business needs, evolve.

eBook Cover Contest


Fancy yourself a graphics person? Just like to doodle?

We’re holding a contest to create new covers for our various ebooks. Winners will receive absolutely nothing, other than a cover credit within the text (hey, we’ll also give you a full set of the ebooks for free, what the heck).

  • Covers must include the book title, and should include the PowerShell.org logo. The logo is below.
  • Don’t include author names in the artwork. Authors are credit on the book’s “About” page.
  • Images must be 8.5″ wide by 11″ high, preferably at 300dpi, in PNG or JPG format (see these specifications if you need that sizing in pixels).
  • Don’t include art, photos, or any other elements that you yanked off the Internet, including Microsoft imagery, unless you can provide us with written permission from the copyright holder to use it.

You can submit a series for all the books, or just covers for the book or books you like best.

Be serious. Have fun. Whatever! Send submissions via e-mail to Admin, right here at PowerShell.org. We’ll let you submit until the end of January 2015, and we’ll pick the best selections we have at the time.

metro-logo

PowerShell Summit N.A. 2015 Status Update & Info


As of this post, PowerShell Summit North America 2015 is full, and registration has been cut off. We’re taking some time to confirm our numbers and venue capacity; if we’re able to open additional seats, that will happen in January 2015. We will allow any additional capacity to be registered until one month prior to the Summit, or until it sells out, whichever comes first. We do not maintain a waiting list; please check here and on the @PSHSummit Twitter feed for any announcements.

For those already registered, we do not have any official hotel recommendations. You’re welcome to use the Summit Forum to see where others are staying, or to arrange for carpooling or other stuff. We certainly encourage all attendees to check the Forum for Q&A and other discussion – it’s never too early to start getting involved. On the hotel front, just look for hotels in downtown Charlotte, or near Microsoft Charlotte, based on your preferences. The reason there’s no official hotel is that there are numerous business-class hotels nearby, and after a close call last year we didn’t want to take the financial risk of booking out a room block.

Our intent at this time is to book the venue to fire code capacity, which is why we may be able to open additional slots after we confirm everything. That means both venue rooms will be full at all times. You will not be permitted to stand or sit in the aisles, back of the room, or block the doorways. If the session you hoped to attend is full, you’ll need to go to the other one. Keep in mind we’re recording everything, so you won’t miss out entirely.

The last sessions on all three days will only have a single session. We’ll position the speaker in one of the two rooms, and we’ll live-stream to the other room. This is where we plan to put Jeffrey Snover’s talks, both to accommodate what has historically been high interest in his sessions, and to accommodate his total inability to do a session in only 45 minutes :). If you don’t get a chair in the “live” room, you’ll need to join from the “overflow” room.

The two rooms are actually in different buildings, separated from each other by a driveway/courtyard arrangement. We’re suggesting that you not bring your ginormous 21″ laptop, since it’ll just drag you down moving between sessions. Maybe stick with a Surface if you want to take notes and stuff. Although we’re recording everything, so… you know. Maybe just enjoy the session.

Lunches will be taken in the session rooms, with buffet setups in the hallways just outside each room.

Stay tuned for further details, and please use the Summit forum to ask questions.

JOB POSTING: Help us Run PowerShell.org


[UPDATE: We’ve gotten an outpouring of responses – I’m literally a bit teary-eyed right now – so I’ll work with the existing set of volunteers and post again should everyone realize what we’re asking and go running for the hills!]

We’re looking for a volunteer to take over regular maintenance of the PowerShell.org website. We may even have a small budget to make this a paid-contractor gig. Trick being, it’s gotta be done regularly. 

The specifics:

  • Set up new user groups with pages (as needed)
  • Approve/Delete forums posts that are held for moderation (daily – this doesn’t happen often, though)
  • Moderate blog comments (daily)
  • Approve community-submitted calendar events (weekly)
  • Assist TechLetter team with setting up Forums topics for discussing upcoming TechLetter articles (monthly)
  • Identify Forums posts that have gone unanswered; raise awareness and recruit answers (often via Twitter) (at least weekly)

We’re not looking for this person to do actual WordPress maintenance at this stage. However, if you’re interested and do have WordPress experience, we could potentially tack that on. It wouldn’t be much more than approving WordPress and plugin updates on a scheduled basis, although we do have one PHP code hack that has to be maintained after core WordPress updates.

If you’re interested, please e-mail Admin right here at PowerShell.org. We’re hoping to have someone start in January. We’d obviously love a volunteer to step in and be our hero; if it goes well, we can divert some budget to making it a permanent gig. We know that sometimes the family finds it easier to have you donate your time if you’re getting a bit back in return. We’re planning to make a similar offer to other key positions, including our TechLetter Editors and TechSession Manager, in 2015 if we can.

A Crowdsourced PowerShell Proficiency Exam


I wanted to call your attention to Smarterer, a company recently acquired by my employer, Pluralsight. Smarterer’s schtick (apart from vexing my auto-correct) is that the host crowdsourced technology assessments. In other words, the community decides what questions to ask someone in the test.

The magic is that their back-end engine, over time, figures out which questions are awesome and which ones suck, and adjusts the assessment accordingly. So as more people (especially qualified ones) take the test, the better it gets at identifying skilled people. It gives it a sort of built-in immunity against bad community-contributed questions, because those eventually filter out of the assessment that’s delivered to people. It’s pretty engaging, actually. I’ve had some fun taking some web development-oriented assessments, and surprised myself in a few places.

They’ve got a PowerShell assessment. Why not jump in, take it, and then add some questions of your own? Next time you need to interview someone for PowerShell chops, send ‘em to Smarterer.

Our NaNoWriMo Challenge: Write a PowerShell Article


In honor of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I wanted to offer a smaller, and more unique, challenge.

Send me a PowerShell article.

Seriously. My name is Don Jones, and this is PowerShell.org, so you can probably figure out how to contact me. Send me an article between 800 and 3,000 words (including code) in Microsoft Word format. Don’t attach any scripts. Please keep the formatting super-simple: paste code from the PowerShell ISE, and use Word’s default styles otherwise. If you must include screen shots, please embed them in the doc, but also include them as a a separate PNG in your e-mail.

You can write about anything, provided it’s PowerShell-related. What’s best? Some challenge that stumped you – and that you eventually solved (and please, tell us how). Something that you think folks could benefit from, or could learn to do better. Even an article that lays out both sides of a particular question, and outlines the pros and cons of each argument. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that you write. 

I will personally commit to reading every single one, and providing you with feedback on your article. When suitable, I’ll make some specific suggestions for improving the article. If you then fix it up accordingly, I’ll run it by a professional editor – and I’ll have it published. In some cases, we’ll publish it right here on PowerShell.org. In other cases, I’ll submit it to my friends at 1105 Media for their consideration in one of their IT magazines, like Redmond Magazine or MCPMag.com. Still others will go into the PowerShell.org TechLetter, which would be a huge help to our editors, who are always hungry for content.

Being able to communicate well is important in all walks of life, but being willing to share is even more important. Think you’ve got nothing to share? Wrong. You have unique experiences that everyone can learn from. You do not need to be an expert in order to have something valuable to share. We would all benefit a lot more if more people shared their experiences and successes – so now it’s your turn.

The deadline is November 30th, of course, and I’ll work my way through them all as quickly as possible. You’re not going to be judged on your grammar or spelling (although do use Word’s tools to help those as much as it can). Don’t try to write fancy, or overly formal. In fact, just write like you’d talk. Read your piece back to yourself aloud, and if it sounds weird, fix it so it doesn’t. If it sounds good, it’ll read well.

C’mon. Take up the challenge. And tweet folks over to this article, too. Let’s make it a thing. My goal is to help at least a few folks because regular bloggers, either here or elsewhere, and my dream is to find maybe a couple of folks who can pick up a full-time column with a magazine or other publication. That’d be awesome. I know you’re out there – let’s get the party started.

 

How to Have the PowerShell Summit Come to You


We’re often asked if we’re planning to have a PowerShell Summit in (insert name of town/country/city). The answer is, “no,” because we’re usually not planning much in advance of whatever’s currently on the table. Keep in mind – we’re all volunteers. We don’t have a ton of free time to plan 3 years out! As you’ll see in a minute, it’s a lot of work.

That said, you can play a big role in bringing the Summit to your town. How? Simply write a proposal and submit it to us. Use the “Admin” e-mail alias at PowerShell.org. Here’s what to include:

  • When you’re proposing for. We typically need a proposal roughly 18 months out. The North America event is in April, and the Europe event in September, so you need to plan about a year and a half ahead of those dates.
  • A description of the local PowerShell audience. Helping us understand the local business environment, how many Microsoft IT pros are employes, and whether or not there’s a local user group, all helps. The more you can do to help us reach out to the locals, the more confident we’ll be in planning an event in your area.
  • A venue. This is the tough part, because we have a number of pretty strict requirements. Many commercial venues won’t talk to a smaller organization more than 6-9 months out, so in talking to a venue you’ll have to ask them to estimate pricing based on their current situation; we’ll nail down particulars closer-in if we select the venue. We don’t need you to guarantee dates; we just need an estimate of how much the venue wants to charge us.

Our venue requirements are detailed and pretty much non-negotiable.

  • The venue must be near an international airport – no more than a 30-minute drive. This must be accessible by a major air carrier, such that a flight from Seattle-Tacoma could make it to the venue’s airport with no more than one connection. We have to be considerate of the product team’s time!
  • The venue must be near a sufficient number of affordable, business-class hotels. We do not reserve room blocks or guarantee rooms, so if you’re talking to a hotel, they may not want to deal with you because of this.
  • The venue must offer parking – although we are okay if there are parking fees.
  • We must have 2 rooms capable of seating at least 50 people each. That seating can be “theater-style…”
  • …but we must also have a place for at least 100 people to eat lunch. Sometimes, that means a separate room. Other times, it may mean setting the session rooms “classroom style” so people can eat in the session rooms. Switching to “classroom style” still needs to afford seating for 50 people per room, minimum.
  • We prefer to buy “all-day” catering packages that include unlimited coffee, a continental breakfast (pastries), buffet lunch, and an afternoon snack. Pricing cannot exceed about $110 per person per day – and that must include taxes, service fees, gratuities, and so on.
  • We prefer not to guarantee a specific number of people until very close-in. However, most commercial venues require a commitment up front. In that case, we prefer to commit to no more than 50 people – even though we want the flexibility to have more than that.
  • If we’re paying top dollar for catering, we should get the venue itself for free. That’s traditional at most commercial venues. If we’re paying for the venue, then our per-person/per-day catering cost should be substantially under our limit.
  • We prefer to minimize A/V expenses, but do require an HD projector, screen, and wireless lav mic in each of the two rooms. We’d need pricing on that equipment if it isn’t included in the venue pricing.
  • The venue needs to have decent Internet. That doesn’t necessarily need to be included for free, but it needs to be available. We may purchase 2-4 connections for speakers to use when presenting, so knowing the pricing would be helpful.
  • The venue needs to be available for at least one evening event, where we’ll likely want a cash bar and some light snacks – we expect to pay extra for the evening food, but not for the venue itself.

As you can see, it’s a tough list, and it’s a lot of work for us to find venues. That’s one reason we tend to lean toward Microsoft facilities, when they’re available, because we get the venue cheaper, the food cheaper, and so on.

You’ll also see that our pricing doesn’t leave a ton of room for error. At $110/person/day, each attendee costs us $330. With 50 attendees, there’s another $130 per person in overhead to pay for speakers’ meals. We have about another $130 per person in hard costs like insurance, equipment shipping, and logistics planning. We carve off another $150 per person to help fund PowerShell.org itself, including this website. That’s $740 per person in costs – real close to the $800 we charge, which also has to cover VERIFIED EFFECTIVE exam costs and so on. We plan our numbers around a 50-person break-even point because we’re incredibly risk-averse – we don’t want to have to make up the difference on our personal credit cards, which has almost happened in the past. As you can see, we try to keep our numbers pretty tight – which means a lot of careful planning.

So… if you want to volunteer (it’s much appreciated!) and do some local legwork, you’re more than welcome to propose your favorite town. We understand that, working 18+ months out, some of the numbers will be estimates – that’s fine. Knowing that something is roughly in the right price range is a big start.

We do have other operational criteria that can come into play, so just because you propose someplace doesn’t mean we’re guaranteeing we’ll go there – but we’ll keep it in mind, even for future years.

When Will There be a PowerShell Summit in ____?


As we move into the middle of PowerShell Summit Europe 2014, we have a lot of folks asking, “when will you hold a Summit in ____” (insert the name of your favorite country).

Right now, PowerShell.org is committed to organizing both North American and European events, one per year, while there is audience demand for them. Both events will shift locations from year to year, and the location choice is driven by a number of criteria – mainly financial ones.

But we’re all volunteers here. Each event requires upwards of 240 man-hours to put together, and an up-front financial commitment of up to $25,000. We’re getting to the point where the organization can front that money, but it’s been on personal credit cards to this point, paid back only once the event is complete. So… it’s a big deal. Strictly from a time perspective, we just don’t have enough to organize more events elsewhere in the world.

However, we continue to encourage folks to organize their own events. We’ve even come up with a brand name to get you started: PowerShell Forum. The idea is for those to be smaller 2-3 day, regional-level events that we help promote. We’ll provide all the advice we can to help get you going, too. We’ll put you in touch with the right folks so that if product team participation is an option, you can find out. We hope that a PowerShell Forum “grows up” to one day host a PowerShell Summit – because the organizers and volunteers are in place to let us hold a full Summit without taking on the entire time commitment ourselves.

In any community, if you want something good to come your way, the best way is to do it yourself – rather than asking someone else to bring the good to you. We feel that’s particularly true with live events, because you know the local market, the venues, the audience, the customs, the laws, and so on.

So, “when will there be a PowerShell Summit in _____?” The answer is, “when you make it happen.” We’d love to help – but you’ll have to take the first step.

Join the DSC Hackathon at PowerShell Summit 2014 Europe


On Monday night (Amsterdam time, September 29th), we’ll be holding the first DSC Hackathon at PowerShell Summit Europe 2014. Attached are the scenarios we’ll be asking participants to select from. We’ll ask everyone to work in small groups, pick one scenario, and try to produce a custom DSC resource that solves the problem.

Many of these are from Microsoft’s own internal “wish list” of resources that they don’t yet have anyone assigned to.

You’re welcome to participate, even if you’re not present at the Summit. You will need to operate in Amsterdam time; we’re only accepting submissions during that time (from about 6pm local time). If you’d like to participate, you’ll need a Twitter account to begin with. When the Hackathon starts, drop a tweet that includes the hash tag #DSCHackathon, as well as the scenario you’d like to work on. We’ll respond and connect you with a group that’s working on that scenario. From there, the group will let you know how they’d like to communicate – possibly a Skype chat window, possibly an IRC chat, it’ll be up to them.

In the event that Internet connectivity sucks, we’ll simply do our best, and may direct remote users to work on their own. But, if you monitor the #DSCHackathon tag, you may be able to find other remote users to team up with.

There are no prizes – we’re doing this for the good of the community. However, every team who hands in a working resource will get public recognition in the PowerShell team blog, on PowerShell.org, and wherever else we can manage to mention you :).

As a reminder, you should plan to have Windows PowerShell v4 or later on your laptop in order to participate. We don’t anticipate going longer than 2-3 hours, and if you’re on-site plan to use battery power for the entire period. Ideally, you’ll want a server VM or two so that you can test the scenarios… which are attached herewith. And it’s fine to get an early start on these, if you like.

Download: DSC Hackathon Scenarios

Instructions for PowerShell Summit North America 2015 Registration


If you’re planning to attend PowerShell Summit North America 2015, to be held at the end of April 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina, you should read the following important information:

  • The registration site will be open from 30 October 2014 to 30 March 2015. There is about a 30-day window from the end of registration to the event itself. There are no exceptions to this cutoff.
  • You should read the extremely important information about registering. It also contains links to the agenda and to the registration site.
  • The agenda will be available in mid-October 2014.
  • We will only have about 90 seats available due to the size of the venue. You will probably need to plan to register early, because we don’t have a magical way of making the building bigger to accommodate “just one more person.”
  • We will not be holding seats for later registrations. Everything becomes available on 30 October 2014. We’ve done the “phased release” before and it was a major PITA.
  • Yes, we will be recording all sessions and posting them on the PowerShell.org YouTube channel. We will not be live-streaming because the facilities don’t exist to do so. Recordings will include slides/demos and a room microphone; this will not be Channel 9-quality, but it should get the job done. Or you could, you know, show up at the live event.

If you are planning to have someone in your organization register and pay on your behalf, it is crucial that they do so using your e-mail address, not theirs. Otherwise, we may not be able to admit you to the event. This is a big deal. Please don’t mess it up.

Please help us get the word out. This is entirely a community event, run entirely by volunteers who are paying their own way to the event also. We have zero marketing and advertising budget, because we try to keep the overall costs as low as humanly possible. Set reminders to tweet, Facebook, etc. once a month and help us let the world know about the event.

PowerShell v5: Misc Goodness (including Auditing)


Aside from classes and new DSC features, which I’ve already written about, there are a number of less-headline, but still-very-awesome, new capabilities.

This article is based on the September 2014 preview release of WMF 5.0. Information is highly subject to change.

First up is the ability to automatically create PowerShell cmdlets from an OData endpoint. Huh? OData is a kind of web service (basically); PowerShell gains the ability to look at the endpoint and construct a set of proxy cmdlets that let you interact with the endpoint more naturally. This is spiritually similar to what PowerShell can already do for a SOAP web service endpoint.

Next are some 7-years-overdue cmdlets for managing ZIP files: Compress-Archive and Expand-Archive. Finally. These use underlying .NET Framework ZIP functionality (I think), which has had some compatibility problems in the past, so we’ll see how these hold up. But they should be the missing link to letting you do everything DSC-related right in PowerShell, since you can now ZIP up your custom resources for deployment via pull server.

Auditing gets a huge win, and this is really more of a headline feature than people think. For one, the ISE now supports transcript creation. Yay! You can also “nest” transcripts, meaning you can have one running, and then start a second one to cover only a portion of time. Closing the second one lets the first remain running. You can also specify a central transcript directory, which is useful when you want to collect these things into a central folder for reporting. For example, you should now be able to set up Remoting endpoints that automatically kick off a transcript when someone connects, and saves them to that central location.

More auditing comes in the form of Group Policy settings. You’ve always been able to log the fact that certain commands were run (did you know that?), but now you can enable detailed script tracing that logs a crapload of detail to the PowerShell operational log (which can, like any other event log, be forwarded to another server). You get the complete details of every script block executed, even if it creates another script block. Again, this is set up in Group Policy – check out the WMF 5.0 release notes for the location.

Ed Snowden gets a face slap with new Cryptographic Message Syntax (CMS) cmdlets, including Get-CmsMessage, Protect-CmsMessage, and Unprotect-CmsMessage. These use PKI to encrypt data. By the way, if your organization doesn’t already have an internal PKI, WTF are you waiting for, you’re ten years behind the curve, man. PKI becomes more important to Windows environments every single day, and you need to get with the program.

There’s also a new fun feature for extracting content from strings. This system uses some Microsoft Research functionality called FlashExtract. Essentially, you give it examples of what your data looks like, and then point it to a big string (like a text file) full of data. It can extract all the data pieces based on your example. It’s early days for this technology, but it’s kind of awesome to see the PowerShell team giving us an easy way to play with it.

Because WMF 5.0 introduces PowerShellGet, it now includes commands to add PowerShellGet repositories. That means you can stand up your own repo, host your modules there, and install modules by simply running Install-Module (or find them using Find-Module). Tres awesome! We don’t yet have technical details on what the heck a PowerShellGet repository actually looks like, but I’m sure that’ll crop up.

ARE YOU PLAYING WITH WMF 5.0 ON A NON-PRODUCTION VM YET? YOU SHOULD BE. Times are changing and you gotta keep up!

PowerShell v5: What’s New in DSC


When Desired State Configuration (DSC) came out – gosh, just about a year ago – I kept telling people that there was more to come. And a lot of it is now just around the corner in PowerShell v5.

This article is written to the September 2014 preview release – things may change for the final release.

A major set of changes in DSC is a much more detailed and granular configuration of the Local Configuration Manager (LCM), the local “agent” that makes DSC work on the target node. This new level of configuration really shows you where Microsoft’s thinking is.

For example, a single target node can be configured to pull configurations from multiple pull servers. That doesn’t necessarily mean separate machines, as a single IIS instance can host multiple websites, but it means you’re no longer limited to one MOF per computer.

Yes, I said that. The LCM can now pull (but not have pushed to it) partial configurations. Each partial configuration is a MOF, but the understanding is that there can be more than one. There’s still no dynamic evaluation of which MOFs will be pulled; you have to specify them all in the LCM configuration, but now you can break a machine’s total configuration into multiple bits. Each partial configuration is given a source, which is a pull server.

Each partial configuration can be given exclusivity over certain resources. This helps avoid overlap. For example, you might decided that Partial Config A has exclusive control over all xIPAddress settings, meaning those settings from any other partial config wouldn’t work. Partial configurations can also depend on each other, so that (for example), Partial Config B won’t even run until Partial Config A is complete.

The LCM can also have a separate server configured for web- or file-based resource repositories, meaning those can be separated from the pull server endpoint.

What used to be called the “compliance server” is now simply the reporting server – we mentioned in “The DSC Book” that the name of this would likely change. It’s now a distinct configuration item, meaning even a node in Push mode can report its status to the reporting server!

New global synchronization capabilities also exist. A node’s configuration can be made dependent on a configuration item from another node. Meaning, Node “A” won’t try to configure until Node “B” completes certain items first. Communications is all via WS-MAN and CIM.

A new Get-DscConfigurationStatus returns a high-level status for a node – similar to what the reporting server would collect – and an amazing new Compare-DscConfiguration can now accept a configuration and tell you where a given node differs. This is a big deal, and something a lot of folks wanted in PowerShell v4. There’s also an Update-DscConfiguration, which forces a node to evaluate its DSC stuff right away.

DSC is quickly coming of age. In less than a year, we’ve seen (so far) 6 releases of additional resources, and now with PowerShell v5 we’re seeing a number of important enhancements and evolutions in the core technology. Many of the things that frustrated folks initially are now taken care of.

PowerShell v5: Class Support


This post is based on the September 2014 preview release of WMF 5.0. This is pre-release software, so this information may change.

One of the banner new features in PowerShell v5 is support for real live .NET Framework class creation in Windows PowerShell. The WMF 5.0 download’s release notes has some good examples of what classes look  like, but I wanted to briefly set some expectations for the feature, based on my own early experiences.

The primary use case for classes, at this point, is for DSC resources. Rather than creating a special PowerShell module that has specially named functions, live in a specially named folder, and work in a special way – that’s a lot of special, which means a lot of room for error – classes provide a more declarative way of creating DSC resources.

But we’re a bit ahead of ourselves. What’s a class?

In object-oriented programming, a class is a hunk of code that provides a specific interface. Everything in the .NET Framework is a class. When you run Get-Process in PowerShell, for example, you are returning objects of the type System.Diagnostics.Process – or, in other languages, objects of the class System.Diagnostics.Process. Each process is an instance of the class. The class describes all the standardized things that a process can show you (like its name or ID), or that it can do (like terminate). Programmers build the functionality into the class itself.

Classes can have static properties and methods – these are hunks of code that don’t require an actual instance of a process. For example, you can start a process without having a process in the first place. The System.Math class in .NET has lots of static members – the static property Pi, for example, contains the numeric value of pi to a certain number of decimal places. The static Abs() method returns the absolute value of a number.

PowerShell classes are designed to provide similar functionality. The trick with PowerShell classes, at least at this stage of their development, is that they don’t add their type name to any kind of global namespace. That is, let’s say you write a class named My.Cool.Thing, and you save it into a script module named MyCoolThing.psm1. You can’t just go into the shell and run New-Object -TypeName My.Cool.Thing to create an instance of the class, because there’s nothing in PowerShell (yet) that knows to go look for your script module to find the class. That’ll likely change in a future release, but for right now it means classes are kind of limited.

The basic rule is that you can only use a class within the same module that contains the class. That is, the class can only be “seen” from within the module. So, your MyCoolThing.psm1 module might define a class, and then might also define several commands (functions) that use the class – that’s legal, and it will work. You still can’t use New-Object; instead, you’d instantiate your class by using something like ClassName::new(), calling the static New() method of the class to instantiate it. I expect New-Object will get “hooked up” at some point, but it might not be until some future version of PowerShell.

Anyway, back to DSC.

DSC is a bit unique, because normally you don’t load resource modules; the Local Configuration Manager loads them. When you build a DSC resource class, you’re forced to provide three methods: Get(), Set(), and Test(). The LCM loads your module, instantiates the class, and then calls the three methods as needed. DSC resources built in this fashion can live in a plain old module .PSM1 file – there’s no need to create a DSCResources subfolder, no need to have an empty “root” module, or any of that. So it’s a more elegant solution all around. Aside from some structural differences, you code them the same as you always have. v5 still supports the old-style resources, for backward compatibility, but class-based resources are the “way forward.” I expect Microsoft will eventually refactor the DSC Resource Kit to be class-based resources, as soon as they get a minute and as soon as v5 is widely adopted.

So most of the “wiring” behind classes has, to this point, been designed to support that DSC use case. In other words, of all the things a PowerShell class will need to do, the team has so far focused mainly on those things that impact DSC. The rest will come later – the release notes use the phrase, “…in this release” a lot, meaning the team understands where the current weaknesses are. “This release” in some cases may simply mean this current preview release, meaning they’re targeting more features for v5’s final release; in other cases, more features will have to wait for v6 (or whatever) or a later version of PowerShell.

So there’s a little rambling on classes and what’s presently in PowerShell v5. If you haven’t already downloaded the preview and started playing with it, you should; not in production, though. Keep it in a test VM for the time being.