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Graphical front ends for PowerShell? Here's a couple for you

Trevor Pott gives Corefig and PSHVM a whirl

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Sysadmin blog For many sysadmins Hyper-V Server is an area where Microsoft's TCO and ROI documents - built around the "Hyper-V Server is free" market-speak - fails to align with reality.

If you're a PowerShell guru – or willing and able to use Windows 8 – then Hyper-V server mostly lines up with the Microsoft pitch. If you're a PowerShell and Windows 8 refusenik then rejoice because the third-party developer community is here for you.

Regardless of the rationale behind the lack of PowerShell enthusiasm there seem to be enough refuseniks to make a dent in Microsoft's plans. The future is still hazy but the present is seeing enthusiastic uptake of alternative interfaces.

Much like Microsoft's own GUIs the third-party GUIs are merely user-friendly layers of top of PowerShell. When you push a button it executes a script. As such, most require you to run "Set-ExecutionPolicy Unrestricted" on the target server before launching the GUIs. Otherwise they won't work.

Corefig and PSHVM are two excellent examples of the third-party GUI scene. They demonstrate different strengths and weaknesses.

Corefig

Corefig is the descendant of the much beloved Core Configurator that served the GUI-loving crowd during the 2008 R2 era.

The Core Configurator project was abandoned and Eric Siron decided to pick up the ball and run with it. Thus was Corefig born and the Core Configurator project updated for newer operating systems.

Corefig Gui

Reasonably nice looking for a community GUI

The GUI is polished, with a few nice graphics and an intuitive layout. Siron has done yeoman's work in making the sometimes indecipherable language of Core Configurator more comprehensible. But he has focused most of his efforts on the "behind the scenes" work. In essence, he "ported" the project from one OS to the other with very little in the way of new features. Indeed, some were lost along the way, such as the ability to promote or demote a domain controller.

Corefig exists to give you a workable interface for setting up your server's basics. Long term administration of your server still requires either Microsoft's RSAT tools, System Center, or PowerShell. That said, this is a wonderful bit of code, well cared for, and will help many an admin get the widgets working the way they want.

PSHVM

PSHVM is a project put together by James Stephan with an eye towards building a free GUI for Hyper-V Server and Windows Core that would do everything the average admin could want to do without having to administer the system remotely using Microsoft's RSAT tools. For the most part, it has succeeded.

Installation is a bit of a pain as it only ships as a .zip file. The official instructions are lengthy and involve remotely accessing a network share. I'm lazy, so I just turned the zip into an ISO, mounted it using IPMI, and copied the files over.

PSHVM certainly is nowhere near as polished-looking as Corefig. A lot of Powershell scripts require you to hit enter or punch numeric choices into a PowerShell window to proceed.

PSHVM GUI

The PSHVM GUI. Not pretty, but it works (click to enlarge).

It makes up in functionality what it lacks in style. The actual utility of the application is hard to understate; Stephan bills it as "[taking] up where Sconfig[1] and Corefig have left off". This claim is wholly accurate. Stephan has incorporated PowerShell scripts from a number of places as well as integrated his own work. The result is a terrible-looking GUI that does most of the things I could want it to do.

Keeping the human factor in mind

Sometimes the big guys lose sight of – or outright view as impediments – the human beings on the other end of the technologies they create. Companies of all kinds make this mistake repeatedly - viewing customers as the enemy instead of the people who pay your salary.

Thanks to people like Siron and Stephan, the jobs of the "edge cases" will not be going gently into that good night. The datacenters of the future will not need be run only by systems administrators who most closely resemble an ever more narrowly defined norm. They will be populated – as today – by people - big and small, GUI and CLI, normal and weird. So thank you those guys, and everyone else like them. ®

[1]Sconfig is the name of the text-based interface Microsoft provides as part of its Core and Hyper-V servers.

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