Are Windows Administrators Less Likely to Script/Automate?

I wrote this bit as a comment on another blog this morning, and then after typing a thousand words I realized that it would make good fodder as a post on my own blog. The article that I was commenting on was on the topic that Windows administrators are less likely to script and/or automate because Windows uses a GUI and Linux is more CLI-centric. And because Linux is more CLI-focused, it is more natural for a Linux user to get into scripting than it is a Windows user. Without further ado, here is my comment on that article:


This article and these comments suffer from a lack of the presence of a good Microsoft engineer and/or administrator. As is common, this discussion so far has been a bunch of Linux admins complaining that Windows isn't more like Linux, but not offering much substance to the discussion from a pro-Microsoft perspective.

That said, I may be a Microsoft zealot, but I do understand and appreciate Linux. I think it’s a great, fast, modular, infinitely customizable and programmable operating system. So please don’t read this in anger, you Linux admins.

First I want to stay on track and pay respect to the original article, about scripting on Windows. Scripting has been an integral part of enterprise-grade Windows administration ever since Windows entered the enterprise ecosystem. It has evolved and gotten a lot better, especially since Powershell came on the scene, and it will continue to evolve and get better, but we've already been scripting and automating Windows in the enterprise space since the '90s. (Though maybe not as well as we would have liked back then.)

But I will make a concession. There are Windows admins out there that don't script. A lot of them. And I do view that as a problem. Here's the thing: I believe that what made Windows so popular in the first place - its accessibility and ease of use because of its GUI - is also what leads to Windows being frequently misused and misconfigured by unskilled Windows administrators. And that, in turn, leads people to blame Windows itself for problems that could have been avoided had you hired a better engineer or admin to do the job in the first place.

GUIs and wizards are nice and have always been a mainstay of Windows, but I won’t hire an engineer or administrator without good scripting abilities. Even on Windows you should not only know how to script, but you should want to script and have the innate desire to automate. If you find yourself sitting there clicking the same button over and over again, it should be natural for you to want to find a way to make that happen automatically so you can go do other more interesting things. Now that I think about it, that’s a positive character trait that applies universally to any occupation in the world.

And yeah, it was true for a long time that there were certain things in Windows that could only be accomplished via the GUI. But that’s changing – and quickly. For instance, Exchange Server is already fully converted to the point where every action you take in the GUI management console is just executing Powershell commands in the background. There’s even a little button in the management console that will give you a preview of the Powershell commands that will be executed if you hit the ‘OK’ button to commit your changes. SQL Server 2012 will be the first version of SQL that’ll go onto Server Core. (About time.) The list goes on, but the point is that Microsoft is definitely moving in the right direction by realizing that the command line is (and always has been) the way to go for creating an automatable server OS. Microsoft is continuing to put tons of effort into that as we speak.

However, just because scripting on Windows is getting better now doesn’t mean we haven’t already been writing batch files and VB scripts for a long time that do pretty impressive things, like migrate 10,000 employee profiles for an AD domain migration.

I really love Server Core, but it's just a GUI-less configuration of the same Windows we've been using all along. Any decent Windows admin has no trouble using Core, because the command line isn't scary or foreign to them. For instance, one of the comments on this article reads:

"The root of the problem seems to be that Linux started with the command line and added GUIs later, whereas Windows did it the other way around."

I think that's false. Windows started as a shell on top on top of DOS – a command line-only operating system. DOS was still the underpinning of Windows for a long time and even after Windows was re-architected and separated from DOS, the Command Prompt and command-line tools were and still are indispensible. Now I will grant you that Linux had way better shells and shell scripting capabilities than Windows did for a long time, and Microsoft did have to play catch-up in that area. Powershell and Server Core came along later and augmented the capabilities of and possibilities for Windows – but the fact remains we’ve been scripting and automating things using batch files and VB Script for a long time now.

There was also this comment: “Another cause for slow uptake is that Windows skills don't persist.”

Again I would say false. I can run a script I wrote in 1996 on Server 2012 just fine, with no modification. Have certain tools and functions evolved while others have been deprecated? Of course. Maybe a new version of Exchange came out with new buttons to click? Of course – that’s the evolution of technology. But your core skillset isn’t rendered irrelevant every time a new version of the software comes out. Not unless your skillset is very small and narrow.

There was also this comment:

“I also complain that PowerShell is not a "shell" in a traditional sense. It is not a means of fully interacting with the OS. There is no ecosystem of text editors, mail clients, and other tools that are needed in the daily operation and administration of servers and even clients.”

As I mentioned earlier, there are fewer and fewer things every day that cannot be done directly from Powershell or even regular command-line executables. And to the second sentence - I’m not sure if there will ever be a desire to go back to an MS-DOS Edit.exe style text editor or email clients… but I could probably write you a Powershell-based email client in an hour if you really wanted to read your emails with no formatted styles or fonts. :)


So in the end, I think the original article had a good point - there probably are, or were, more Linux admins out there with scripting abilities than Windows admins. But I also think that's in flux and Windows Server is poised in a better position than ever for the server market.

Comments (1) -

short answer: YES ;)

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