Book Review: Windows PowerShell in Action by Bruce Payette

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powershell in action

The PowerShell console environment is growing larger by the year with a huge community of users, myself included. This is one beast of a platform and it’s something I use frequently in my development workflow.

I’ve noticed that many devs know of PowerShell, but they really don’t bother with it because they don’t care or don’t understand how it can affect their workflow.

Windows PowerShell in Action brings you from an absolute novice to a power user and a critical thinker with this awesome scripting environment. You’ll not only learn what to do with PowerShell, but why to do it and how to apply these techniques to your own workflow.

Server administrators and DevOps guys will find the most value from this book. However I’m mostly a programmer & web developer and I work with PowerShell on a regular basis. So I’d say this book is perfect for anyone who wants to be a Windows power user in any fashion, regardless of what you’re using it for.

Book Contents

Out of all the books I’ve reviewed I think this might be the longest I’ve ever seen. The current 2nd edition of PowerShell in Action comes in with 1,016 total pages and 21 unique chapters split between two sections.

This is obviously a long read and very detailed. You do not need any prior knowledge of Windows PowerShell to pick up this book, although you should know a little about scripting.

Here’s a breakdown of the chapters in this book:

Part 1: Learning PowerShell

  1. Welcome to PowerShell
  2. Foundations of PowerShell
  3. Working with types
  4. Operators and expressions
  5. Advanced operators and variables
  6. Flow control in scripts
  7. PowerShell functions
  8. Advanced functions and scripts
  9. Using and authoring modules
  10. Module manifests and metadata
  11. Metaprogramming with scriptblocks and dynamic code
  12. Remoting and background jobs
  13. Remoting: configuring applications and services
  14. Errors and exceptions
  15. The PowerShell ISE and debugger

Part 2: Using PowerShell

  1. Working with files, text and XML
  2. Extending your reach with .NET
  3. Working with COM
  4. Management objects: WMI and WS-MAN
  5. Responding in real time with eventing
  6. Security, security, security

Let me say right off the bat that beginners likely won’t understand most of the words in these chapter titles. This is totally OK and should not present a problem with learning Windows PowerShell.

The early chapters teach the foundations of PowerShell both with scripting and in the PowerShell environment. Operators, variables, wildcards, loops and conditionals are some of these basic concepts that you’ll learn from the start.

If you already have some knowledge in this area you’ll do great. Those with zero experience may need to reference online docs & tutorials to catch up.

But absolutely everything you could possibly want to know about PowerShell can be found in this book.

powershell script screenshot

I actually went into this book expecting to know most of the material. Boy was I wrong!

The author Bruce Payette knows his stuff and he’s a writer I’ve come to respect. PowerShell in Action surprised me by the level of depth explaining the scripting language, the console, and the traditional workflows.

In the later chapters you get into .NET and GUIs for Windows forms, plus error handling and debugging in the scripting environment. This is all fairly detailed stuff but it’s written so that anyone can understand how it works.

The book is split into two sections. The first section basically covers the syntax, operations, and general ideas behind a PowerShell workflow. The second section gets into real world examples with practical applications.

It is possible to jump around and move from chapter to chapter, but when I tried this I found myself missing out on gems in previous chapters I thought I already knew.

Even “advanced” PowerShell users may start questioning their knowledge after digging into this book.

This book can be the ultimate intro guide to get you started, improve your existing skills, and in some cases even master parts of the PowerShell workflow.

Pros & Cons

I found Payette’s writing style to be encouraging yet serious and straightforward. He doesn’t talk down to you like you’re a complete beginner. But you won’t get too lost in the details either.

You’ll learn how to think for yourself when writing your own scripts, not just copying code from a book. This is crucial for beginners and experts alike.

Overall the content is phenomenal and the writing style is right up there with it. Here’s a quick breakdown of my thoughts:

Pros:

  • Undisputedly the most in-depth guide to PowerShell from start to finish
  • Chapters are organized in a very easy to follow manner
  • The writing teaches you how to do something and why to do it

Cons:

  • Very lengthy index and hard to search through
  • Not as many real-world examples as I would’ve liked to see

Have you ever wondered why so many people love PowerShell?

Or have you wondered how PowerShell fits into a web developer’s workflow? Or a software developer’s workflow, or server admin’s workflow?

This book answers all of these questions in great detail with a writing style that keeps you hooked all the way through.

Based on the size of this book it can be rather intimidating. But you can work through each chapter slowly and use online references to help you along the way.

In my experience this book is a much better teacher than an online tutorial. The index is freakin’ huge and way too hard to sort through as a desk reference. I’d rather just Google or hit the Microsoft documentation to find specific answers.

But the benefit of this book is not as a reference guide or as a cookbook. It’s a book to help you learn all the nooks and crannies PowerShell, how they all fit together, and how to use them properly.

And for this I think Payette excels both in writing style and execution.

Also every Manning book comes with a free digital copy for Kindle, ePub, or PDF so this is a great choice if you like both physical & print copies.

Who Is This For?

This book targets a select group of people: server & system administrators, network engineers, software & web developers, or just Windows lovers who want to reach that next level of scripting.

Folks who’ll get the most from this book will have a keen interest in the Windows platform. They’ll also work on it professionally or aspire to work in a professional field that benefits from scripting on a regular basis.

You do not need any prior knowledge of PowerShell to get started.

In fact you can pick up this book having no idea what the hell PowerShell is or what it does. I still think you’d work your way through the chapters comfortably with Bruce’s detailed writing style.

Anyone who wants to learn PowerShell from the basics should not even consider another book. This also includes intermediate users who think they’re far along enough to move onto an advanced book. Just because PowerShell in Action seems targeted towards beginners doesn’t mean it’s a novice book.

And I’ll admit there are some awesome advanced books like PowerShell in Depth. I actually did a review of that book and found it to be an excellent follow-up.

But if you look through the chapters list above and don’t feel at least 80% confident with all those topics then I’d recommend either researching them online or grabbing a copy of PowerShell in Action.

This one book is enough to take you from a complete novice to a working professional with a carefully crafted PowerShell workflow.

Final Summary

Bottom line: I seriously love this book.

While I’m not happy with the confusing index, I also don’t think this book was made to be a reference guide. I would’ve liked to see a cleaner index with more organization but it’s not bad enough to tarnish the review.

This book’s content far outshines the index, and the writing style is what really sells me. Windows PowerShell in Action is the most comprehensive PowerShell book I’ve ever seen. It’s perfect for beginners and intermediates who want a more comprehensive overview of PowerShell from start to finish. Not to mention it’s crazy affordable.

This book is my #1 recommendation for anyone starting on their PowerShell journey. Definitely a must-buy if you’re interested in Windows machines, servers or IT.

windows powershell in action cover

Review Rating: 5/5