When Intel unleashed the then-cutting-edge IBM 8086 in 1978, users had to boot their machine from the floppy disk. You could then be welcomed to a green text screen with a blinking cursor at the C:\> prompt. Commands such as config.sys and hacking boot.ini were common ways to get games to run.
Over time, the C:\> was replaced with an improved GUI and boot from a hard disk. But, after several decades, that command prompt (CMD) still lives on. It’s only recently, when Microsoft released Windows 7, that CMD was upgraded or replaced with PowerShell. So, CMD has served us well for quite a long time, but it seems PowerShell is taking over slowly but surely.
Windows Command Prompt (CMD) is Microsoft’s proprietary shell for its DOS operating system. CMD is among the last surviving components of the original MS-DOS operating system that Microsoft long replaced. This legacy programming environment has been carried forward in Windows for several years. It typically copies all DOS commands you would get on a traditional DOS system.
The notable downside of CMD is its limited ability to access a myriad of Windows admin features. Moreover, programmers find it hard to compose complex scripts with Windows command prompt. Fortunately, Microsoft introduced an updated version of CMD, the PowerShell, to allow system admins to use a modern command-line environment to manage Windows better.
Microsoft originally introduced PowerShell with Windows 7 to provide a powerful set of commands for OS instructions. Typically, scripts written in PowerShell appear more like programs than batch files.
PowerShell is both a task scripting and automation framework. It incorporates a command-line shell as well as a scripting language and includes the .NET framework. As a result, system administrators can automate various regular daily tasks while developers get access to a robust library of functions to work with.
Additionally, PowerShell incorporates cmdlets (also known as “command lets“) to make .NET processes easily accessible. You can think of cmdlets as utilities utilized in PowerShell scripts. Although PowerShell ships with several cmdlets, experienced developers can create their own.
With Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) interfaced with Powershell, users can query the statuses of a service or device running on Windows and include the results in a PowerShell script. This provides a vital status check for conditional processing or branching.
Many windows admins and developers still use DOS commands to move around the operating system to execute basic tasks. For example, you can still create custom utilities by placing DOS commands into scripts to perform a series of tasks. Additionally, DOS is frequently used to sequence standard administration tasks to be scheduled out-of-hours or timed.
Fortunately, all the commonly used DOS command-line utilities and operators are available in PowerShell. However, if you’re seeking a more robust solution with access to WMI and other Windows system services, PowerShell comes in handy.
PowerShell typically uses cmdlets (self-contained programming parameters that display the underlying admin options inside of Windows). Before the arrival of PowerShell, system admins had to navigate the GUI to identify these options, and it wasn’t possible to reuse a workflow or change options on a large scale.
Additionally, PowerShell utilizes pipes to chain cmdlets and seamlessly share input/output data, the same way a bash in Linux operates. With these pipes, users can create complex scripts that pass data and other parameters from one cmdlet to the next. Besides, users can create reusable scripts to make mass changes or automate tasks with variable data. You can also use PowerShell to create aliases for various cmdlets and even configure your own user names for different scripts or cmdlets.
When creating a simple script for one of your batch jobs, you might try using PowerShell to test its impressive capabilities. The only challenge most people have with PowerShell is that it’s pretty big. Even experienced administrators often feel belittled when using PowerShell for the first time. You might feel like all your experience in DOS has suddenly become obsolete. Although it often feels more comforting to hang on to what you’re already familiar with, switching to PowerShell opens up a whole level of opportunities to do more with Windows. By dedicating just a bit of time and effort, PowerShell cmdlets would soon become as familiar as DOS.
All scripting languages have some level of vulnerability, and PowerShell is no exception. Malicious actors can leverage PowerShell to infiltrate your computer and steal or encrypt your data. For example, the internet is already filled with worms and file-less malware that exclusively use PowerShell routines.
Fortunately, Microsoft has provided a means to combat some of these threats in the PowerShell environment. One effective way to thwarts cyber-attack through PowerShell is through Execution Policies. These policies give system admins control over the kinds of scripts that can be run on their systems. In fact, the default policy doesn’t even allow any scripts to be run, although others allow scripts to be signed by an authorized publisher before being permitted to run.
A number of common CMD commands work well in the PowerShell environment. It’s because PowerShell has “aliases” that direct these old commands to the right new cmdlets. As a result, you can run the new cmdlets by simply typing the old commands. Here are some of the Command Prompt commands and their PowerShell equivalents:
Change a Directory
• PowerShell: Set-Location
• DOS: cd
List Files in a Directory
• PowerShell: Get-ChildItem
• DOS: dir
Rename a File
• PowerShell: Rename-Item
• DOS: rename
If you’re struggling with the transition from Windows command prompt to the more powerful and versatile PowerShell, 403Tech can help. We have decades of experience supporting small- and medium-sized businesses with IT system support and consultancy. 403Tech typically works with your internal IT teams to help with specialized projects, helpdesk services, and resources for your in-house IT department. Contact us today for all your IT services and support needs in Calgary and throughout Southern Alberta!
Scott Gallupe of 403Tech Discusses Cybersecurity Threats in Business in Calgary Article
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