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Command Prompt has been around for a long time, and most Windows users are at least somewhat familiar with it. PowerShell is newer, with different, more modern commands. Is this newer command line interface one you should be using? How does it differ from Command Prompt? Let’s find out.

What is Command Prompt?

The Windows Command Prompt has its origins in the early 1980s, before Windows existed at all. Microsoft’s operating system at the time was a version of DOS (Disk Operating System). DOS is a simple, text-only operating system. While the computers themselves were capable of displaying graphics, and the programs that ran on them often did, the graphical user interface had not yet been invented for operating systems.

When Windows first hit the scene, it was merely a graphical add-on for DOS. Over the years, Windows has grown into a full-fledged operating system in itself. However, it still has some roots in its DOS days, and the Command Prompt is essentially the same text-based interface that DOS users saw nearly a half a century ago.

What is PowerShell?

PowerShell is a more modern take on the command-line shell. In fact, it goes quite a bit beyond being a mere shell for entering commands. PowerShell features a full-fledged scripting language of its own, and brings quite a bit more flexibility to its shell than DOS ever had. One of the big problems with the Command Prompt is that, while Windows grew up, Command Prompt didn’t. It still does everything DOS did, but doesn’t do nearly as much as Windows can. PowerShell was created to fix that imbalance.

How Do They Compare?

Even when it was still in use, DOS didn’t have a particularly powerful command line interface. It was very much an operating system for home users. More technically inclined users often relied on one of the various flavors of UNIX, which provides a much more robust command line interface for power users to automate tasks with. In many ways, PowerShell goes a step above a bare-bones UNIX command line. This makes it a significant improvement over the DOS based Command Prompt in many ways.

Has Access to .NET Libraries

Writing a script made up of the simple commands available in DOS can only get you so far. These scripts, called batch files, are useful for small tasks, but aren’t very extensible. PowerShell, by contrast, has full access to the .NET libraries. These are the same programming libraries used to make a great deal of Windows software. As a result, PowerShell can be viewed as a fairly complete programming language in itself. These robust new capabilities are available both in PowerShell scripts, and directly in its command line interface.

Outputs Objects Instead of Text

Working with text alone limits the flexibility of a system. Even if you have two scripts that can talk to one another, doing so by text is either inconvenient or impractical. For any task, it requires the extra work of creating an interpreter to understand the text output of the previous program. DOS scripts can’t talk to each other: but if they could, DOS isn’t a full programming language, so what it can be made to interpret is limited. For many tasks, text alone simply won’t cut it. While binary-to-text encoding formats such as yEnc have been around for a long time, using them with the weak capabilities of DOS isn’t practical. PowerShell’s ability to output objects instead of just text gives it an immediate productivity upgrade over Command Prompt.

Outputs Can be Passed to Other Commands

Part of what made UNIX such an exciting family of operating systems was the way its command line terminal was able to use something called ‘pipes.’ The original UNIX developers understood the need for scripts and other programs to be able to communicate with one another. The result is what they called pipes. These pipes are, as their name implies, a way to transport information from one script to another. Being able to chain commands together in this way greatly enhances the flexibility they offer.  As stated in the previous section, DOS does not allow for this at all. When Microsoft designed PowerShell, they fixed this shortcoming in Command Prompt.

Supports ISE

Modern programmers use a tool called an integrated development environment (IDE). The IDE provides a single application where all the tasks related to programming can be accomplished. It includes a specialized text editor that will auto complete keywords in the programming language, tools for running and debugging the programs created, and a host of other useful features. Command Prompt scripts are not a full programming language and don’t have an IDE. PowerShell on the other hand, does come with such an environment. The PowerShell Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE) serves the same purpose for those writing PowerShell scripts that an IDE does for those writing more traditional programs.

When Should You Use PowerShell?

Because PowerShell can do everything Command Prompt can do and a lot more, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use it whenever you need to use a command line interface or create a script. It’s important to note that the commands are different though. Many people find PowerShell commands easier to learn because they include full words rather than simple abbreviations. However, if you’re following instructions that tell you to use Command Prompt, they won’t work with PowerShell unless you know how to convert them yourself.

Need Help With PowerShell Functionality?

As you’ve seen, PowerShell brings with it a great deal more power and flexibility than you can get from Command Prompt. These features are great for automating tasks and configuring your Windows computers. But all that power comes with a much steeper learning curve, despite the more easily learned basic commands. Luckily, if you need a PowerShell script to aid in your company’s workflows, you don’t have to do it alone.

Envizion IT is a complete IT management services solution. Whether you need help with PowerShell, or a complete digital transformation of your business, the team of experts at Envizion IT will be able to help. Our cost-saving approach to IT services will also save you money. To learn more about how Envizion IT can help your business fulfill it’s technological vision, contact us today.