Posts Tagged Book Review

Managing Windows Servers with Chef, Book Review

Harness the power of Chef to automate management of Windows-based systems using hands-on examples.

Managing Windows Servers with Chef

Recently, I had the opportunity to read, ‘Managing Windows Servers with Chef’, authored John Ewart, and published in May, 2014 by Packt Publishing. At a svelte 110 pages in paperback form, ‘Managing Windows Servers with Chef’, is a quick read, packed with concise information, relevant examples, and excellent code samples. Available on Packt Publishing’s website for a mere $11.90 for the ebook, it a worthwhile investment for anyone considering Chef Software’s Chef product for automating their Windows-based infrastructure.

As an IT professional, I use Chef for both Windows and Linux-based IT automation, on a regular basis. In my experience, there is a plethora of information on the Internet about properly implementing and scaling Chef. There is seldom a topic I can’t find the answers to, online. However, it has also been my experience, information is often Linux-centric. That is one reason I really appreciated Ewart’s book, concentrating almost exclusively on Windows-based implementations of Chef.

IT professionals, just getting starting with Chef, or migrating from Puppet, will find the ‘Managing Windows Servers with Chef’ invaluable. Ewart does a good job building the user’s understanding of the Chef ecosystem, before beginning to explain its application to a Windows-based environment. If you are considering Chef versus Puppet Lab’s Puppet for Windows-based IT automation, reading this book will give you a solid overview of Chef.

Seasoned users of Chef will also find the ‘Managing Windows Servers with Chef’ useful. Professionals quickly master the Chef principles, and develop the means to automate their specific tasks with Chef. But inevitably, there comes the day when they must automate something new with Chef. That is where the book can serve as a handy reference.

Of all the books topics, I especially found value in Chapter 5 (Managing Cloud Services with Chef) and Chapter 6 (Going Beyond the Basics – Testing Recipes). Even large enterprise-scale corporations are moving infrastructure to cloud providers. Ewart demonstrates Chef’s Windows-based integration with Microsoft’s Azure, Amazon’s EC2, and Rackspace’s Cloud offerings. Also, Ewart’s section on testing is a reminder to all of us, of the importance of unit testing. I admit I more often practice TAD (‘Testing After Development’) than TDD (Test Driven Development), LOL. Ewart introduces both RSpec and ChefSpec for testing Chef recipes.

I recommend ‘Managing Windows Servers with Chef’ for anyone considering Chef, or who is seeking a good introductory guide to getting started with Chef for Windows-based systems.


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Single Page Web Applications, Book Review

A brief review of ‘Single Page Web Applications’, by authors Michael S. Mikowski and Josh C. Powell. Learn to build modern browser-based apps, using the latest full-stack JavaScript technologies.

Recently, I had the opportunity to review the eBook edition of ‘Single Page Web Applications‘, by authors Michael S. Mikowski and Josh C. Powell, published by Manning Publications. Most of us involved in software development are acutely aware of recent explosion of the interest in full-stack JavaScript applications, NoSQL databases, HTML5/CCS3, web-sockets, and single-page web applications (SPAs). Mikowski and Powell’s book, Single Page Web Applications, hit the market at a perfect time (release last September), and with just the right mix of timely learning opportunities for the reader.

An interesting twist on many current books in this category, the lack of the author’s heavy reliance on one or more popular JavaScript libraries, such as AngularJS,  Ember.js, and Backbone.js. Mikowski and Powell purposefully build a JavaScript-based SPA from the ground up, without simply plugging into a ready-made library or API. Although many readers may be heavily tied to a certain library or API, understanding how to build a SPA from the ground up is invaluable.

The first thing that struck me, the thoroughness of the book’s examples. A question many publishers ask, does the book have enough ‘real-word examples’. Sadly, the answer is often no. Many books only offer incomplete, academic examples. They are often difficult to scale to match the complexity of modern software development. However in this case, I felt Mikowski and Powell’s book hit a home run with their ‘real-world’ code samples. It is obvious both authors are working professionals, doing development in the ‘real world’. The book’s samples build upon one another throughout the book, effectively expanding the application’s scope and the user’s knowledge.

The second attribute that stood out to me, the book’s documentation. In fact, that might have been one of the very few minor negatives I found with the book — to many comments. The authors go to great lengths to thoroughly comment and document the code samples. In some examples, almost obscuring the code itself. I found the comments both detailed and helpful.

The third attribute that stood out to me, the author’s focus on testing. Testing the sample applications is highlighted throughout the book. Additionally, Appendix B, ‘Testing a SPA’, had more information on testing complex JavaScript applications than many other books I have read. Testing software is often ignored in books and training materials. However, software testing is an integral part of the ‘real-world’ software development life-cycle. Testing is critical to software’s success.

Lastly, I found a lot of value in Appendix A, ‘JavaScript coding standard‘. Read this part, first! Anyone can follow along with the book, mimicking code samples, without really understanding JavaScript’s core concepts. Without a real understanding, it is hard to apply the book’s lessons to your own application. I felt the JavaScript overview in Appendix A of Mikowski and Powell’s book was one of the best I have read. I will be referring back to appendix’s coding style guide, in the future.

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Windows PowerShell 4.0 for .NET Developers, Book Review

A brief review of ‘Windows PowerShell 4.0 for .NET Developers’, a fast-paced PowerShell guide, enabling you to efficiently administer and maintain your development environment.

Windows PowerShell 4.0 for .NET Developers


Recently, I had the opportunity to review ‘Windows PowerShell 4.0 for .NET Developers‘, published by Packt Publishing. According to its author, Sherif Talaat, the book is ‘a fast-paced PowerShell guide, enabling you to efficiently administer and maintain your development environment.‘ Working in a large and complex software development organization, technologies such as PowerShell, which enable increased speed and automation, are essential to our success. Having used PowerShell on a regular basis as a .NET developer for the past few years, I was excited to see what Sherif’s newest book offered.


The book recommends the following minimal software configuration to work through the code samples:

  • Windows Server 2012 R2 (includes PowerShell 4.0 and .NET 4.5)
  • SQL Server 2012
  • Visual Studio 2012/2013
  • Visual Studio Team Foundation Server (TFS) 2012/2013

To test the book’s samples, I provisioned a fresh VM, and using my MSDN subscription, installed the required Windows Server, SQL Server, and Team Foundation Server. I worked directly on the VM, as well as remotely from a Windows 7 Enterprise-based development machine with Visual Studio 2012 installed. The code samples worked fairly well, with only a few minor problems I found. There is still no errata published for the book as of the time of review.

A key aspect many authors do not address, is the complexities of using PowerShell in a corporate environment. Working individually or on a small network, developers don’t always experience the added burden of restrictive network security, LDAP, proxy servers, proxy authentication, XML gateways, firewalls, and centralized computer administration. Any code that requires access to remote servers and systems, often requires additional coding to work within a corporate environment. It can be frustrating to debug and extend simple examples to work successfully within an enterprise setting.


Windows PowerShell 4.0 for .NET Developers, at 115 pages in length, is divided into five chapters:

  • Chapter 1: Getting Started with Windows PowerShell
  • Chapter 2: Unleashing Your Development Skills with PowerShell
  • Chapter 3: PowerShell for Your Daily Administration Tasks
  • Chapter 4: PowerShell and Web Technologies
  • Chapter 5: PowerShell and Team Foundation Server

Chapter 1 provides a brief introduction to PowerShell. At a scant 30 pages, I would not recommend this book as a way to learn PowerShell for the beginner. For learning PowerShell, I recommend Instant Windows PowerShell, by Vinith Menon, also published by Packt Publishing. Alternatively, I recommend a few books by Manning Publications, including Learn Windows PowerShell in a Month of Lunches, Second Edition.

Chapter 2 discusses PowerShell in relationship to several key Microsoft technologies, including Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), Common Information Model (CIM), Component Object Model (COM) and Extensible Markup Language (XML). As a .NET developer, it’s almost impossible not to have worked with one, or all of these technologies. Chapter 2 discusses how PowerShell works with .NET objects, and extend the .NET framework. The chapter also includes an easy-to-follow example of creating, importing, and calling a PowerShell binary module (compiled .NET class library), using Visual Studio.

Chapter 3 explores areas where .NET developer can start leveraging PowerShell for daily administrative tasks. In particular, I found the sections on PowerShell Remoting and administering IIS and SQL Server particularly useful. Being able to easily connect to remote web, application, and database servers from the command line (or, PowerShell prompt) and do basic system administration is a huge time savings in an agile development environment.

Chapters 4 focuses on how PowerShell interfaces with SOAP and REST based services, web requests, and JSON. Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) based service-oriented application development has been a trend for the last few years. Being able to manage, test, and monitor SOAP and RESTful services and HTTP requests/responses is important to .NET developers. PowerShell can often quicker and easier than writing and compiling service utilities in Visual Studio, or using proprietary third-party applications.

Chapter 5 is dedicated to Visual Studio Team Foundation Server (TFS), Microsoft’s end-to-end, Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) solution. Chapter 5 details the installation and use of TFS Power Tools and TFS PowerShell snap-in. Having held the roles of lead developer and Scrum Master, I have personally found some of the best uses for PowerShell in automating various aspects of TFS. Managing TFS often requires repetitive tasks, the place where PowerShell excels. You will need to explore additional resources beyond the scope of this book to really start automating TFS with PowerShell.


Overall, I enjoyed the book and felt it was well worth the time to explore. I applaud Sherif for targeting a PowerShell book specifically to developers. Due to its short length, the book did leave me wanting more information on a few subjects that were barely skimmed. I also found myself expecting guidance on a few subjects the book did not touch upon, such as PowerShell for cloud-based development (Azure), test automation, and build and deployment automation. For more information on some of those subjects, I recommend Sherif’s other book, also published by Packt Publishing, PowerShell 3.0 Advanced Administration Handbook.

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