PowerShell Editor Roundup: Who's the Winner?

In the past few weeks, I've written about PrimalScript (product page, writeup), PowerShell Plus (product page, writeup), and PowerGUI Pro (product page, writeup), the three widely-available commercial editors designed specifically for PowerShell. PrimalScript and PowerGUI tied at 69%, with PowerShell Plus a close second. So which one would I use?

I'm torn. I have to admit, my focus to date has been primarily in PrimalScript (I used to work for SAPIEN), and PowerShell Plus. I didn't pay much attention to PowerGUI, because I wasn't personally interested in its "we'll write the script for you" approach, although I can certainly see the value in that approach. I just didn't think of it as an editor. In truth, it has a pretty rich editor.

If you're working with more than just PowerShell - say, VBScript, XML, HTML, JScript, and other stuff - PrimalScript is the choice. It handles them all more or less equally. I think PowerShell Plus needs to come along a bit in maturity to be really valuable, but that's happening even as I write this - a new version is in beta right now (although I make a policy of not writing about beta products like this, so I'll have to cover its update in the future). PowerGUI, with it's new Firefox-like add-in architecture, is perhaps the most extensible and customizable. PrimalScript offers features I like - an integrated database browser and FTP client are things I use a lot; PowerGUI and PowerShell Plus are more PowerShell-specific, and both offer an integrated command-line in addition to script editing - either of those two could serve as a complete replacement for the Microsoft shell.

None of the products are perfect. I've seen a few oddities with both PrimalScript and PowerGUI, for example; both of those are, however, so aggressively developed and maintained that bugs are often squashed overnight or in a matter of days. Both companies seem very responsive to user needs, if you can articulate those needs clearly (and politely, please - I've seen some horrible and uncalled-for flaming from users on some companies' Web sites). PowerShell Plus has, to date, been on a glacial development path, although I understand from Idera that they're changing that, so we may be likely to see more frequent refreshes and service releases.

At the moment, I find myself using PrimalScript a lot. I'm familiar with it and how it works. It's a mature editing environment, and while it can be a bit intimidating for a newcomer, once you get used to it, there's not much it can't do for you. However, I was really taken with the maturity and sophistication of PowerGUI; if it would load just a smidge faster (and I understand that's a development priority for Quest's team), I'd probably use it more - but I'm going to make an effort to spend more time with it regardless. PowerGUI's snippets feature, in particular, is just seamless and awesome. I love the way PowerShell Plus looks and works - and the richness of its help and tutorial content - but it does have a few UI-related things that irk me a bit. Given what I do for a living, I'll probably wind up using all three more or less equally, just to stay abreast.

What should you do? Frankly, download 'em all. They all offer free trials. See which one works for you. Use my write-ups as a kind of guide, so that you can effectively evaluate them and see which one is best for you. Any of them will make you more effective in PowerShell, and that's really the goal.

Something else to consider: You're not necessarily buying "just" an editor. SAPIEN, for example, offers bundles that include additional valuable software products, and a top-end bundle that includes video training, e-books, and a lot more. Look at the entire package each vendor can offer you, and compare prices based on that. If you're in a large shop and will be buying several copies, contact the company directly and see about a volume discount. Also look carefully at the licensing agreements, as some vendors are a lot more generous than others. Finally, browse each company's online support offerings, and see who you think is the most responsive to user needs. That may include offering paid support, but should also include online forums, perhaps someone on their dev team monitoring Twitter, or whatever.

If you press me to announce a true winner... well, it's tough. I'm attached to PrimalScript as I've been using it for years. I like the approach PowerShell Plus takes. But PowerGUI, frankly, is pretty complete - and almost everything I wrote about in my review of it comes in the free version. Given the availability of Quest- and community-developed add-ons, I suspect there's very little you won't be able to do in PowerGUI. And it's free. It's also being very actively developed, and I've seen bugs squashed pretty quickly - something I always appreciated about SAPIEN's product, too. Frankly, that add-on architecture - and the price tag - has really put PowerGUI on my radar. Unless you need to work on VBScript or other languages, which would definitely push you to PrimalScript, I'm having a tough time seeing why you wouldn't at least give PowerGUI a shot. In fact, I believe the other commercial editors need to not compete with the Microsoft ISE as much as they need to compete with PowerGUI, especially given the fact that you get such a rich editor for free. Again, I have to admit that PowerGUI hasn't been on my radar much, but it's going to be a lot more, now.

I'll caution you, though: Each product takes a somewhat different approach, and being successful with ANY of them will require some getting used to on your part. You have to learn how to use your tools, after all. Any of these products can seem to be "broken" if you don't take the time to understand how and why they're doing what they do. Just bear that in mind as you go, and try them all (it costs you nothing to download a trial) to see which one fits your work style the best. 

What are your thoughts? I know not every editor is perfect - what have your experiences been like? Have you tried any of these and discarded them? Why? I deliberately focused this round of reviews on PowerShell-specific commercial editors, but there are also a lot of non-specific ones (SlickEdit comes to mind) and free tools out there - do you prefer any of those? Why? Drop a comment and let the world in on your opinion.

Don't think this is the end of the conversation. PowerShell Plus has a new version in beta, and SAPIEN has announced Visual PowerShell 2011, which will take an entirely new approach to PowerShell scripting - not to mention including GUI-creation capabilities. PowerGUI is just ramping up its add-on library. There's a lot more in store - so I'll be looking at those new products once they're done and released, and I'll let you know what I think of them right here.

By the way, my PowerShell home page offers access to the latest blog articles, along with PowerShell FAQs - why not bookmark it? You can also get the latest on Windows PowerShell in my Twitter feed @concentrateddon. And, if you’d like to download recent conference materials (slide decks, scripts, etc) I’ve delivered, visit ConcentratedTech.com. That site also contains details on upcoming classes and conferences.

Discuss this Blog Entry 4

on Jul 7, 2010
@Shawn - transitioning from VBScript to PowerShell can be HARD. PrimalScript has similar snippets - open a .ps1 file, start a new line, type "Cos" and hit Ctrl+J. Works with nearly any VBS function. Look in the product's "Snippets Browser" to find more - there's a lot built-in, and you can make your own.

The problem is that it still encourages you to use PowerShell the same way you used VBScript - and while that's necessary in some cases, in many others it means you're working WAY too hard and not really gaining any benefit from PowerShell. A shift to PowerShell is a real mental shift if you're going to take advantage of it, and actually get benefit beyond just using a different syntax than VBS.

I've started to feel that experienced VBS folks are at a bigger disadvantage, when it comes to really mastering PSH, than someone who knows nothing about scripting.



xcud (not verified)
on Jul 9, 2010
An entirely new approach to PowerShell scripting? Give PowerWF (http://powerwf.com) a fair look. It's a drag and drop PowerShell development environment. Under the covers the runtime accesses the PowerShell engine as a first-class sibling to the PowerShell console and ISE.
Shawn (not verified)
on Jul 8, 2010
Yeah I'm understanding that more and more now. I mean I am not an expert VBScript writer but understand enough of it to be dangerous. I'm gathering the best method for me to learn it is starting from the beginning.

Which I must say your site is helping me greatly and I thank you for that. I go between your site and Sean McCown's (MidnightDBA). Then I saw on Grant Fritchey's blog that you kick started him into PowerShell more, so now I have 3 guys to learn from :)

I really wish I had the funds to come up to one of your classes, maybe one day.



Shawn (not verified)
on Jul 7, 2010
Way back when I played with PowerGUI when it first came out, but current employer was not big on using PowerShell. I also used PrimalScript when I got a free license to it. I like the debugging portion of PrimalScript, it was nice. Although I see PowerGUI has a nice debugger now as well.

In reviewing the Overview videos of PowerGUI, what is your opinion on how the software can transition someone from VBScript to PowerShell? Example would be, PowerGUI has the "Insert VBScript Snippet" option that will insert say the [msgbox] equivalent as PowerShell code. I think that is an awesome feature. I image all the vendors have videos and "how to" but PowerGUI actually inserts the code for me.

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