jlcopeland writes "For two decades I've hated the command prompt in DOS and Windows.
Inconsistencies abound and everything is a special case. The
fallback on a Microsoft box has been running a Unix shell under Cygwin or
own Services for Unix (or its predecessor, Softway's Interix),
or by scripting in Perl, but those only get
you so far. Having co-written nine years worth of trade rag columns
using mostly Perl as the implementation language for the samples,
and thinking of every problem that comes across
my desk as an excuse to write a little bit of scripting code,
I've got some well-formed views about scripting languages
and what works and what doesn't. That means
I've been eagerly watching the development of PowerShell since it
was called Monad. It's got the advantage of being a unified command-line
interface and scripting language for Windows, even if it does have
a dorky name." Read the rest of Jeffrey's review.
Bruce Payette's Windows PowerShell in Action is a great overview of PowerShell, aimed at an audience that's got some experience with other scripting languages. Bruce's book is a big improvement over Andy Oakley's earlier book, Monad, which I had been using: it's more complete and it's up-to-date for the first release of PowerShell. It's got great (and sometimes amusing) examples, and feels like the Perl Camel book in flow. When I was reading it in the gym or someplace else away from the keyboard, I kept wanting to run back to the office to try something out. There are also useful "why it works this way" digressions, which provide a lot of context. Since Bruce was on the original development team, wrote most of the commandlets, and was responsible for much of the language design, those digressions are more authoratitive than the directors' commentary tracks on most DVDs.
In outline, the nine chapters in the first part of the book build up as you'd expect: overview and concepts, to data types, to operators, to regular expressions, to syntax, to functions, to interpreting errors. It covers that ground better than many language books that now litter my shelves. The explanations are clear, and the examples are almost all exactly on point. It took me a second reading to realize that my complaints about the regular expression sub-chapter wasn't about the chapter itself, but about some of the implementation decisions; that's an argument about style more than substance, and an observation about me, not about Bruce's writing or PowerShell. The first part of the book is the "mandatory reading," if you will, to get the language down and begin exploring on your own.
The second part is where the real applications are covered. That's the part that you especially want to read sitting next to the keyboard. As you'd expect, the example code is available from the publisher's web site to start you off — look for "Example Code" under "Resources." There's a very good discussion of text processing and how-to-handle XML, complete with some not-obvious warnings about traps to avoid. I've been working very carefully through the really good chapter on using GUIs with PowerShell, "Getting Fancy — .NET and WinForms," and my own proof of concept for that has been rebuilding an old C++ data entry application into a much simpler PowerShell script. As a nice side effect, Bruce's book (and the WinForms chapter in particular) provide a gentle overview to some concepts in the .NET framework, which I hadn't had an opportunity to delve into. The appendix on using PowerShell as a management application will be especially useful to system managers; that was one of the original PoweShell target audiences, and the language achieved that goal very well. The appendix on the language's grammar is really useful, and I keep flipping back to it to check on things.
After Oakley's Monad appeared, there was a long gap before the next PowerShell book appeared. Bruce's book looks to be the first of the post-release wave. If all it had going for it was the authoratative pedigree of the writer, it might be worth it, but it's also well-written, well-organized, and thorough, which I think makes it invaluable as both a learning tool and a reference.
You can purchase Windows PowerShell in Action from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.