Windows 8…reimagined?

The series of releases of client versions of Microsoft Windows seems to suffer all too much the same fate as Star Trek movies have in the past.  This concept has already been discussed before, and there are even blog posts about it, such as Ewan Spence’s comparison of Windows releases between versions 3.0 and Windows 7 to the Star Trek movies from “The Motion Picture” to “First Contact”.  Windows 7 did indeed end up being a very impressive version of Windows, much like First Contact was a very impressive movie in the Star Trek franchise, and now we’re watching with anticipation since Windows 8 Consumer Preview is now available and Microsoft is marching steadfast towards its release.

Following the analogy that Windows releases are like Star Trek movie releases then, and that the success of Windows 7 was analogous to that of Star Trek: First Contact, it would seem that next two releases of Windows should be pretty much flops.  Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek: Nemesis were both pretty forgettable films, offering very little to get excited about.  Maybe Microsoft has picked up on these intertwined fates, inspiring them to try to skip over these failures by fast forwarding to the very successful “reboot” of the Star Trek movie franchise by picking coming out with what they call a “reimagined” Windows.  Did they succeed in making this jump?  Is Windows 8 a truly inspiring, innovative, reimagining of the Windows OS?

Only time will tell what the outcome will be.  First impressions really count though.  Today, based on experiences with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Windows 8 appears as if it will show off very well on a tablet device, where the new UI makes more sense.  For business users like me though that rely heavily on their keyboard and mouse to get work done, I’m really afraid that they’ve gone and hidden all of the great features it includes behind a completely different UI paradigm that just doesn’t jive with the needs of a business worker.  It may work well for casual computing at home, but so far it looks to me like businesses might want to consider skipping this one for their non-touch devices like laptops and desktops, at least until they can reconfigure it more like Windows 7 by removing the whimsical metro UI elements such as tiles, charms and “magic” corners.

What do you think?  Is the reimagined Windows living up to your expectations?  Do you think the new metro UI has a place in business computing?  Or do you wish you had your start menu back?

I’m curious if I’m alone in my perspective or not.  My gut tells me I’m not going to be alone in this perspective.  Sound off in the comments and let me know what you think.

Kirk out.

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PowerSE 2.7 KB: PowerShell profile does not load on startup

Note: This blog post refers to an issue identified in PowerSE 2.7.0. It has been corrected in PowerSE 2.7.1, which is now available.

With the release we published yesterday, both PowerSE and PowerWF received a new feature: product-specific profiles.  This feature allows you to have profile scripts that you only want run in PowerSE or PowerWF run there so that you don’t have to use if statements to check the host name in your profile scripts.  With this feature we also created the initial PowerSE and PowerWF profile scripts such that they dot-source the native PowerShell profile script by default so that what runs in PowerShell also runs in PowerSE.

Unfortunately there is one small detail that was left out of the PowerSE installer for this feature: the installation of the initial PowerSE-specific profile. As a result, if you download PowerSE 2.7, your PowerShell profile won’t run right away.  Fortunately the fix is simple.  All you need to do is invoke this script from inside PowerSE 2.7:

if (-not (Test-Path -LiteralPath $profile)) {
    Set-Content -Path $profile -Value @’
if (Test-Path -LiteralPath $profile.CurrentUserPowerShellHost) {
    . $profile.CurrentUserPowerShellHost
}
‘@
}

Once you have run that script, your PowerSE profile will exist and it will be defined to load your PowerShell profile.  Restart PowerSE 2.7 and you’ll have your PowerShell profile loaded by default again.

Note that this does not apply to PowerWF users, the profile scripts were added correctly to the installer for that release.

My apologies for the inconvenience.  We hope to have this resolved in the product itself very soon.  In the meantime this short script should work around the issue for you.

Kirk out.

PowerWF and PowerSE 2.7 are now available

This morning PowerWF and PowerSE 2.7 were released to the web and they can now be downloaded from http://www.powerwf.com.  These releases offer a lot of new value to PowerWF and PowerSE users, as follows:

PowerWF 2.7 Highlights

New Start Page with New Workflows

The start page in PowerWF has been completely redesigned to provide immediate value out of the box for PowerWF customers.  The new design highlights the Workflow Library that is included with PowerWF, allowing customers to play workflows in the library without opening a workflow or script document.  Users can also customize the workflows on the start page and add their own groups of workflows for easier runbook automation.  This immediate out of the box value is included for PowerWF customers to allow them to leverage the power of Workflows and PowerShell in their environments without requiring any knowledge of PowerShell or Workflows.

New Management Packs for System Center Service Manager (SCSM)

PowerWF for Service Manager has always included several useful management packs for SCSM in the product.  In this release, even more management packs for SCSM have been added.  Now, with a click of a button you can deploy management packs that automatically close resolved incidents, expire inactive problem announcements, cancel pending activities for closed change requests, identify problems from incident trends, notify incident authors about unresolved incidents, and get SCSM statistics.  These management packs are only available for licensed users of PowerWF for Service Manager.

Improved Toolbox Search

The search engine in the Activity toolbox just got better!  Now you can search using command names or keywords and PowerWF will return the best matches based on the terms you provided.  This includes searching with keywords that are only referenced in activity documentation and not in the command name itself.  For example, if you’re a VMware administrator, simply entering “vMotion” into the search box will reveal the MoveVM activity that is necessary to perform vMotion tasks.

Product-Specific Profile Support

PowerWF now uses its own product-specific profile support, and it updates the $profile variable to include the paths to each of the relevant profiles that you use. By default the PowerWF profile dot-sources the native PowerShell console profile, however you can change this behaviour as required by simply modifying the profile yourself in PowerSE.

PowerSE 2.7 Highlights

Easier Breakpoint Management

Breakpoint management in PowerSE just got a lot easier.  PowerSE now includes a Breakpoints pane to allow you to see all breakpoints you have set in your scripting environment, and you can now manage breakpoints using the breakpoint cmdlets and see the breakpoints you have created in the Breakpoints pane.  This gives you easy creation of line breakpoints using the Toggle Breakpoint feature or command and variable breakpoints using the Set-PSBreakpoint cmdlet (or sbp alias for short).

Breakpoints Preserved Across Sessions

Breakpoints are now automatically preserved across sessions, allowing you to continue debugging your scripts from one session to the next.  They are also preserved when you close a file, so you won’t have to reset breakpoints each time you return to a script you were working on.  You can still remove breakpoints of course, using the Toggle Breakpoint feature or the Remove-PSBreakpoint cmdlet.

Improved Help Search

PowerShell help topic files are now included in the help search pane, allowing you to search for help for integral keywords like if or foreach, or for topics like “Advanced functions”, or you can learn more about remoting by searching for “Remote”.  Also, if no results are found when you search, PowerSE will now include a keyword search in command descriptions to allow for users to discover commands using related terms, such as “vMotion”.

Product-Specific Profile Support

PowerSE now uses its own product-specific profile support, and it updates the $profile variable to include the paths to each of the relevant profiles that you use.  By default the PowerSE profile dot-sources the native PowerShell console profile, however you can change this behaviour as required by simply modifying the profile yourself in PowerSE.

And that’s not all!

This shows you a few of the highlights of this release, but of course there were plenty of bug fixes, some performance improvements, and a few other minor enhancements that were included as well.  Whether you’re a current PowerWF or PowerSE customer, or someone who is looking for great tools for working with PowerShell, Workflow, and Management Packs, I strongly encourage you to give this release a try and let us know what you think.

Kirk out.

Essential PowerShell: To alias, or not to alias, that is the question

Recently there was a discussion between community experts and a product team about a module they are working on.  The topic being discussed was cmdlet aliases: whether or not they should provide aliases for their cmdlets out of the box and if so, how they should be provided.  Aliases are great for ad-hoc PowerShell work, which is what most PowerShell users do at this point, and incredibly useful when you’re trying to put out a fire and managing your infrastructure using PowerShell.  However, there are many important things that module authors need to consider when planning aliases for their cmdlets, as follows:

1. There are many cmdlets out now, and more and more every month.  Coming up with a vsa (very short alias) that is unique is a challenge at best, and the more time goes by the more tla’s (three-letter aliases) will get used up.  The likelihood of an alias conflict is already high, and increasing all the time given the number of commands that are available both from Microsoft and from third party vendors.

2. The land grab with alias names is worse than it is with functions or cmdlets.  With functions or cmdlets, you can have multiple modules loaded with conflicting names and access either command using the fully qualified command name.  With aliases though you are not provided this same capability – there can be only one.  Aliases are simply commands set to a single value and they cannot be qualified using a module name qualifier to disambiguate if a name conflict arises.

3. Depending on how careful (or not) that developers are, it is very easy for a module author to completely take over (overwrite) an existing alias with no warning or message indicating that this has happened, resulting in potential command hijacking between module teams.  A simple call to Set-Alias does this without warning.  On the flipside, if developers don’t hijack aliases, then some of the aliases they would otherwise create may simply not be defined.

4. When aliases are hijacked, unloading a module doesn’t correct the problem because an alias that was overwritten by a module alias will simply become completely unavailable when the alias is removed as the module is unloaded.

As far as I am aware, this situation does not improve with the next version of PowerShell either, so it’s years away from getting better.

Believe it or not, even with these things in mind, I’m actually still pro aliases.  I just think that some extra care/thought needs to be put into their definition.  There is no real standard here that both satisfactorily addresses the issues identified above and that allows for consistency across companies/teams at this time.  Given that is the current state of affairs, if you are considering aliases for your module I recommend one of the following approaches:

1. [SAFEST] Rather than trying to come up with something that can be shipped despite these issues, at this time I think aliases would be best addressed in a "tips and tricks" type of blog post, proposing a short script that defines some useful aliases for the module/snapin in question in order to allow admins to be able to deal with fires quickly using ad-hoc PowerShell commands via some aliases.  Such a script should generate warnings whenever a name conflict is discovered so that users are aware when an alias either cannot be created or is overwritten.

2. [EXPERIMENTAL] Ship aliases with your module, but try to make sure they really are unique.  For example, if you’re a vendor whose company name starts with Q, you could prefix all of your aliases with "q".  This is attractive because there are no verbs that start with "q", so right from the start you’ve dramatically reduced the chance that you’ll have a conflict, setting yourselves up better to have aliases that belong to you.  Then you would only have to coordinate within your company to make sure the aliases used across teams are unique.  This isn’t foolproof though because there may be multiple products/vendors that adopt the same standard, and if the name of your company or product starts with G, the likelihood of a conflict would be much higher (the alias prefix used for "get-*" cmdlets is "g") so you may want to choose a pair of letters instead.  Regardless, you’ve likely reduced the risk, and you could generate a warning whenever you run into a conflict that prevents an alias from being created.

3. [RECOMMENDED] Lots of 1 and a little bit of 2: use unique alias names that work for your product team/company, but don’t ship them with the module.  Instead, push them out as a value add on a blog post, and see how the community responds.  At the same time work with MVPs and Microsoft to get these issues addressed such that a shorthand system for command names does work.  Some MVPs, already proposed a few things to the Microsoft PowerShell team that could help here (aliases for module names for one — think PS\gsv for a core PowerShell version of Get-Service or EX\gu for the Get-User cmdlet that comes with the Microsoft Exchange module or AD\gu for the Get-User cmdlet that comes with the Microsoft Active Directory module, and so on), but more discussions need to happen and this will take more time.

I recommend the third option because given the current issues with alias hijacking and with no support for disambiguation, it seems to be the best solution for now (from my perspective at least).  If you have come up with other alternatives that resolve these issues, please share them with the community so that this improves going forward.

Hope this helps,

Kirk out.

PowerShell MVP for 2012

Every year around Christmas I anxiously await the New Year to see if I receive the Microsoft MVP award again that year.  Well that email came on January 1, 2012, and I’m quite thrilled about this one because it’s a milestone this time (year 5 as a PowerShell MVP).  Thanks to the community for being so great to work with, and thanks to Microsoft both for recognizing individual efforts with the MVP program and for creating such great products like Windows PowerShell!  Work has never been so much fun!

Kirk out.

Seasons of change: new Product Manager for PowerWF™ and PowerSE at Devfarm Software

I always enjoy this time of year.  There is something about the transition that happens over Labour Day weekend that always gets me excited.  Maybe it’s a lingering feeling of anticipation over the new year at school or university from years gone by, a feeling that I can still appreciate these days as I watch my kids getting excited about their education and the new activities they will sign up for this fall.  Regardless, it’s always a fun time of year for me.

This year though I have some extra reasons of my own to be even more excited.  As of this morning, I am now working as Product Manager for the PowerWF and PowerSE products at Devfarm Software!  I am absolutely thrilled about this new position!  Devfarm has a great team and a great set of products, and I’m really happy to be able to help them drive those products forward.

With this news, today marks the end of a month that included some vacation time, some time to step back and refocus, and some time for reflection on what to do next.  During this time I received a ton of support from friends and followers in the PowerShell community, and for that I am very grateful.  This support helped one particular sentiment that I came across stay with me:

You know for a (while) I (wondered if) going back to the amazing experience of (PowerShell) wouldn’t be a good idea, but really now I’ve come completely around because (software can be) stressful and hard to make but ultimately what makes (it) fun is the people that you work with, and the fact that (I’m) going to be working with a lot of the old gang, with a lot of friends, and obviously making some new friends is really the point of being here, so I’m extremely thrilled.1

This really represents how I have felt since my departure from my last job as Product Manager for PowerGUI.  I really love PowerShell as a technology, but as great as that technology is, it just wouldn’t be the same without the community that surrounds it.  PowerShell is blessed to have a tremendous community, and I am very, very proud to be able to continue to participate in that same community as a Product Manager for some really cool products that use PowerShell, as a PowerShell MVP, and as a geek who fell in love with technology a long time ago.

Now that I’ve found my new direction and focus, it’s time to get down to business.  Whether you’re a current user of PowerWF or PowerSE or someone who is interested in trying PowerWF or PowerSE, I’d love to connect with you to hear what you like (or don’t like) about these products as well as what you would like to see added to them in the future.  Feel free to reach out to me at any time either in my blog comments or by using the Contact Me form on my blog.  I’m really looking forward to working with you.

Kirk out.

1 Paraphrased from Peter Jackson’s speech on the first day of filming for “The Hobbit”; his exact speech can be heard here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqzJ1LFh6x0&hd=1&t=9m15s.

One for the road: Stepping away from PowerGUI®

Today was one of my most difficult days in my 7½+ year career at Quest Software.  The same week that I was given a performance raise (I got that email on Monday), this afternoon I got a phone call from the director over my business unit letting me know that my position has been cut effective immediately.  Part of a book balancing effort it seems –  funny (or not so much) how life works sometimes.

I’ve accomplished a lot while working at Quest, and spent a ton of professional and personal energy on the company and its products, particularly PowerGUI (far too much energy if you ask my wife, and today I must say I’m tending to agree).

Since I started working with the PowerGUI team at Quest back in 2007 (back in the version 1.0.x days) I have:

  • been awarded the Microsoft MVP award for my community support Windows PowerShell four years in a row
  • received recognition as a Quest Software expert in Windows Management (only 1% of the company employees have received this recognition)
  • provided feedback and direction over the product and its features through 3 major release cycles and many minor releases
  • supported the product and the community as a PowerPack developer, then as a PowerShell Solutions Architect, and most recently as the Product Manager (although I never could get those other positions backfilled so I ended up wearing all three hats most of the time)
  • released dozens of extensions for the product, including PowerPacks for platforms such as Active Directory, VMware, Hyper-V, and Exchange, and Add-ons such as the Script Editor Essentials Add-on or others for specific features such as script signing, transcription, the PowerShell blue console theme, and many more
  • pushed the number of commercial features in PowerGUI Pro from two when I took over as Product Manager to over six in the current version with many more on the way
  • initiated strategic partnerships with key enterprises such as NetApp and Intel and helped them create their own PowerPacks for their platforms
  • helped drive traffic to the powergui.org site through my blog and through social media as we grew the number of downloads from 100000 to over 1.2 million
  • provided feedback and direction to internal teams at Quest with PowerShell support in their products
  • successfully presented well-received PowerShell-focused sessions at many user groups and also at conferences such as Microsoft TechEd, the TEC conference, the PowerShell Deep Dive (a mini-conference in the TEC conference), and TechDays Canada
  • been elected as President for the PowerShellCommunity.org site
  • coordinated and provided direction over the first ever PowerShell Deep Dive conference

Unfortunately, most of that is now a legacy as it came to an abrupt end today.  I’m still a PowerShell MVP, and I will still be involved with the PowerShell community, however my work on PowerGUI has stopped for now.

Before I step back from this though, and before I reorganize/refocus my efforts onto more important things, I wanted to share one more new PowerGUI feature that I recently created for the community that I have spent so much time with these past 4 years.  I still have a strong affinity for PowerGUI and a lot of my heart and soul has gone into this product, and this feature is just a small example of that effort.  The new feature comes as part of the Call Stack Window add-on that I just published in the PowerGUI Add-on library.  Here’s a screenshot showing you what this add-on looks like in action:

PowerGUI Script Editor Call Stack Window

This add-on adds a call stack window to your PowerGUI Script Editor every time you start debugging a script. Working with a call stack while you debug anything beyond the most simple of scripts is essential because it provides you with a list of all nested calls that led up to the current line of script in your debug session. You can use this to determine where functions are being called from by setting a breakpoint inside a function and then walking up the call stack to see the script used to call the function. Also, this window has double-click support, so if you would like to go to any location in the call stack, simply double-click on the location you wish to see and the add-on will take you there, even if the file in question isn’t open at the time.

I was considering putting this feature in the Pro version in a future release, but that is beyond my control now so I decided I’d share what I have today and let you guys have fun with it.  Since I created the feature in this add-on, it’s been an incredibly useful feature to me and I hope you guys enjoy it as well.  To get this Add-on, simply select Tools | Find Add-ons Online in your PowerGUI Script Editor and search for “Call Stack”.

That will most likely be my last PowerGUI-centric post for a while, and it will be my last post for at least a week while I take a much needed vacation before moving on to new things.

Thank you for your continued support through the past four years.  I hope this post finds you well.

Sincerely,

Kirk Munro
Former Product Manager of PowerGUI Pro and PowerGUI

P.S. If you are in need of someone with my skills, either as a Product Manager, a PowerShell MVP, an expert in Windows management (with a strong focus on Active Directory and Exchange although I’ve also gotten deeply involved in virtualization with Hyper-V and VMware as well), a social media/community site manager, or as a freelance writer, my schedule has all of a sudden become much less busy and I’m interested in filling up that time with new work once I come back from vacation, so please get in touch.