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Windows Scripting Editors Buyer's Guide

Improve your scripting experience by using a multi-featured Windows script editor

There's a lot to be said for being a do-it-yourself (DIY) type. In the IT pro world, the person overseeing IT operations often wears multiple hats (system, network, phone admin, Help desk) or, at the very least, has a limited budget for investing in new products. In such environments, being unafraid to roll up your sleeves and script your own solutions for IT task automation, monitoring, and deployment is a big plus.

But even the most dedicated DIYers can benefit from using a state-of-the-art Windows scripting editor, instead of banging out code in a basic text editor such as Microsoft Notepad. The 13 scripting editor products offered by 10 third-party vendors listed in the buyer's guide table provide capabilities geared toward simplifying the coding, debugging, and maintenance of administrative scripts and make creating scripts an easier, more efficient experience than using a plain-vanilla text editor. Note that the guide excludes free, open-source editors (e.g., the popular Notepad++).


What's in a Windows Scripting Editor?

What features should you look for when evaluating a Windows scripting editor product? If you’re performing administrative scripting tasks in a Windows Server environment, you're likely performing them using Windows PowerShell, which is the de facto scripting environment for a number of Microsoft products. So if your scripting language of choice is PowerShell, you'll want to make sure that the scripting editor supports PowerShell, as well as any other scripting languages (e.g., VBScript, JavaScript) that you intend to use for scripting or even development tasks. 

Most of the editors in this buyer's guide support PowerShell, and many of them support VBScript and/or JavaScript, which are popular languages in Windows scripting. Some of the products support other scripting languages, such as ES-Computing's EditPlus and Just Great Software's EditPad Pro, both of which support PHP, Perl, Python, Ruby, JavaScript, and VBScript (EditPad Pro also supports PowerShell). Noteworthy in regard to language support is SAPIEN Technologies' PrimalScript 2011, which supports more than 40 scripting and programming languages. On the other end of the language-support spectrum is Quest Software's PowerGUI Pro, which is strictly for PowerShell scripting. 

There are, of course, other features to consider besides what languages an editor supports. Color-coded syntax is, by now, a standard feature and is found in all the scripting editors included in this buyer's guide. Debugging support and autocompletion (i.e., the editor completes the command or phrase after the user types the first few characters) are also standard in most of the editors listed. Another feature to consider in a scripting editor is whether the product lets you set breakpoints—a useful capability for debugging.

File-comparison and source-control support are two additional features that might be important to you, especially if you’re working on a multi-person IT team or development environment in which multiple versions of files likely exist if scripts or other programs are written and maintained by various people. File comparison, as its name implies, compares files and reports the differences (e.g., dates, folder structure, text changes). Source control, or version control, manages multiple-user changes to a program, file, or document to avoid conflicting changes.


Beyond Editors

Two products that deserve mention aren’t strictly code-editing tools but can be considered as alternatives to traditional scripting editors. The first, Quest Software's PowerGUI Pro, provides many basic editing features, but the product's primary purpose is to provide a graphical PowerShell administrative console—that is, a means to help IT admins avoid writing PowerShell code. PowerGUI Pro is included in the buyer's guide list. 

The other product, ScriptLogic's Desktop Authority (ScriptLogic is part of Quest Software), provides a scripting alternative by automating IT desktop administrative tasks (e.g., password management, software and update deployment) without the use of logon scripts. (ScriptLogic declined to be included in the buyer's guide.)

Finally, a product submitted for inclusion in the buyer's guide, Alexey Martseniuk's PowerShell SE, is in beta and therefore isn't listed in the guide, which includes only released products. However, the tool is worth a mention because it's somewhat different from other PowerShell editors, in that it’s based on the built-in Windows PowerShell Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE) and is essentially a customized ISE.


A Spectrum of Prices and Capabilities

As you'll find in the buyer's guide, scripting editor offerings fall within a spectrum comprising at one end lightweight products with a few enhanced editing capabilities, such as Just Great Software’s EditPad Pro, Adersoft's VbsEdit/HtaEdit companion products, and IDM Computer Solutions' UltraEdit and UEStudio, to the mid-range Idera PowerShell Plus, iTripoli's Admin Script Editor, and's ExeScript Editor, to higher-end products such as SAPIEN Technologies’ PrimalScript and FastTrack Software's FastTrack Scripting Host, which offer a fuller complement of editing capabilities plus other features. If you're a one-person IT organization on a tight budget, any of the lower-priced products will probably serve your needs just fine. But if you're working in a larger IT environment creating and managing hundreds of management scripts, the higher-end, full-featured scripting editor solutions ought to be within your purview.

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