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PowerShell: A Better CMD.EXE

Every systems administrator and power user is very familiar with CMD.EXE: the command line interpreter for Windows. Its used for running applications from the command line, and also for performing administrative tasks with batch files. Not much has changed with the traditional command line interpreter from the days of DOS 1.0. The batch language has improved and more functionality has been added, but its still very limited and not as capable as Linux command shells (i.e. bash).

Taking on Bash

All of this has changed with Microsoft’s PowerShell. This is a vastly improved command line shell with a built-in programming language. The language is very similar in capabilities to PHP or Perl and works very well with creating small utilities for Windows. The big advantage of PowerShell over Linux shells is the vast .NET Framework that it has access to. You can write a script that can extract data from a Microsoft SQL Server database, send it by FTP to a remote folder, and then send an e-mail notifying a user where they can find the files that were transferred. Before this, a batch file would have to call external applications to perform the FTP and e-mail functions.

PowerShell scripting can easily be replaced by any of the Visual Studio .NET languages, but it has the advantage of being able to edit source code and immediately execute it.

Apart from scripting, the shell is also very good for executing commands, or cmdlets as they are called, from the command line. With this, you can perform complex operations that would require a great deal of programming to do.

Choose the Right Version

If you search Microsoft.com, you will find Windows PowerShell 1.0, but I would not recommend using this version. A better choice is the Community Technology Preview version of PowerShell 2.0. This version supports running scripts on a remote machine, creating cmdlets with its scripting language, reusable modules for organizing scripts, a GUI integrated scripting environment, and many more useful features.

Uninstalling PowerShell 1.0

Before you can install PowerShell 2.0, you need to uninstall version 1.0 if you installed it previously. This can be done by checking on the Show updates box in Add or Remove Programs (Control Panel). This is required otherwise Windows PowerShell will not be visible for uninstalling. You can find it in the Windows Software updates section.

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Is It Worth Learning?

PowerShell is a powerful scripting language and can hold its own again PHP and Perl. The command line interpreter will save you time as a Windows administrator and you won’t go back to CMD.EXE or batch files after learning it. PowerShell is worth the effort in mastering it.

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Eclipse Ganymede for PHP

PHP is an open source language, but it lacked good development tools for many years. The majority of PHP programmers used free editors to write code. Zend created a full featured PHP development tool (Zend Studio) but it carried a hefty price tag, which many programmers were unwilling to pay. So, most just used the free editors they already had.

There are expensive options for PHP development environments, i.e. Zend Studio, Delphi for PHP, but there is also an extension for Eclipse which can be used for PHP programming. The PDT Project is a development tools framework with features comparable to its commercial counterparts.

The PDT Project can be installed as a Eclipse extension, or as a complete Eclipse application with PDT setup. You can download it at the PDT Project page. The software doesn’t get installed, you just extract the contents, move the eclipse folder to where you want it, and then run eclipse.exe (create a short-cut for your desktop).

After running eclipse, you should download the Remote System Explorer tools so that you can connect to web sites by FTP and SSH. The easiest way to install this is through the Software Updates option on the Help menu, and then go the available software tab. Search for the word remote and the options in the screen below will be displayed. Check the options as below and press the Install button. The remote tools will then be installed.

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Once all of this is installed, your ready for PHP development.

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Testing WordPress with WP Security Scan

In today’s world, attacks on web sites by hackers are common. We need to take precautions to prevent the security in our web sites from being compromised. There isn’t any built-in utility for WordPress to test security, but there is a plugin by Michael Torbert that can be installed for this purpose.

WP Security Scan examines a WordPress installation for security problems and if it finds them, recommends a course of action to correct them.

Some of the functions that it performs are:

  • test the strength of passwords
  • examine file permissions to prevent unauthorized usage
  • checks the security of the database
  • hides the version number of WordPress
  • protect the WordPress admin account
  • remove the WP Generator META tag from the core code

The plugin is easy to install and it found several problems on my blog, which were also easy to fix. I strongly recommend all WordPress users install this extension and properly security their web site.

You can download WP Security Scan at wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-security-scan/.

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DWF Viewer for OS X

AutoCAD users can easily share their drawings by exporting them to a DWF format. The Digital Web Format was developed by Autodesk for designers to share their to share their documents for people who would like to view or print them. A DWF is sort of like a PDF for AutoCAD drawings. It’s also easy to print because you don’t have to specify the many settings that is required to print a DWG file.

The only problem is that most DWF viewers are available only for machines running Windows. Mac users can now view DWF with Austin Silver Software’s McDwiff application.

McDwiff can be used viewing, converting, or printing DWF’s. You can be ensured of good accuracy because it uses the Autodesk online DWF translator. While the information transmitted there is private, you shouldn’t use this software if security is a concern for your organization.

The software is easy to install and easy to use. You can open 2D and 3D drawings, but rotation in 3D is still being worked on. Zooming and panning work very well. Printing may be an issue because your processing a Windows document on a Mac. A variety of problems occur when printing a Windows PDF on a Mac (i.e. font dropout) so I would imagine that similar things would occur with a DWF file.

If you want to use the DWF file in other applications, you have the option of exporting it to TIF, GIF, JPG, PNG, BMP, or PDF.

As with many newer OS X applications, it requires a minimum version of 10.4 and it will run on both PowerPC and Intel Macs.

You can download McDwiff at www.macdwf.com.

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Windows Live Writer

I’m always looking for better ways to do things and I’ve spent some time thinking about how I can make blog posts an easier task. It’s not really a difficult thing to do, but the editor that comes with WordPress really isn’t that great. Web-based editors tend to be slow and sluggish.

I did a Google search for a WordPress client and found a large number of blog editors available for Windows. After trying a few of them, I decided to use Microsoft’s product, Windows Live Writer. The software is in beta still but I haven’t experienced any problems with it, other than it crashing a few times but I’m running Windows so these things are to be expected. 🙂

Windows Live Writer can post directly to Windows Live Spaces or to any blog that uses Really Simple Discovery, the Metaweblog API, and the Movable Type API. This allows it to work with Blogger, LiveJournal, TypePad, and WordPress.

The advantage of posting to your blog with this application as opposed to using your blog’s web-based editor is speed. The editor is very responsive and you can easily add links, pictures, or maps from Microsoft Virtual Earth. The pictures can be uploaded to a specific folder in your blog by FTP. I like this feature because I place images by the month and year of the blog post.

You can switch to HTML view by pressing the F12 key, and switch back to editor view by pressing F11. I normally edit the HTML to add the Google Adsense code after the first paragraph. A preview of how the blog will actually look in your web site can also be seen.

Windows Live Writer has the standard functions that are typical with editors, such as making text bold, changing colour, and making bullets. Of course, there is a spell checker for peeple whu haf trubel speling. A grammar checker would be nice, but you can always drop your blog post into Microsoft Word for that.

I recommend this program for people who want to become probloggers. You will probably make more posts with this software because it’s just a matter of typing your text and pressing the Publish button.

You can download Windows Live Writer at windowslivewriter.spaces.live.com.