I'm a programmer who's been using and administering Linux systems (and to a lesser extent, other Unix systems) since the mid-1990's. Now as part of my job I'm ending up doing a lot of Windows Server 2008 administration work: installing and configuring software, moving data around, identifying problems from logs, etc.

I'm finding it fairly difficult, in the sense that everything is taking me 10 times (or more) as long as it would on Linux, because I don't know where anything is. The permissions system is different, the filesystem features are different, the scheduler is different. When a service I'm configuring gives a "cannot find file" error, on Linux I've got tools like lsof and strace to see what processes are doing, a couple text files in /etc/ to look at, and I can figure out anything; on Windows obviously there are rough equivalents to these (Services GUI, sc tool, etc.) but it's slow going, and often I don't even know what to google for. ("Windows version of /etc/init.d/" doesn't turn up any relevant hits!)

What resources are there for people who know Linux but not Windows? I've found many resources, including questions here on SF, for the opposite, but few or none going this direction.

I don't know exactly what I'm asking for, so anything is helpful: a Linux-to-Windows administrator's cheat sheet, a conceptual overview of Windows security/permissions/filesystems/etc., a magic decoder ring for what "Error 2" means, cmd.exe syntax for bash users, whatever. Thanks!

  • That sounds like a fairly fun thing to write... Jul 28, 2010 at 21:28

2 Answers 2


Some specifics that will probably be some help:

Various utilities from Sysinternals: ProcExp, TCPView, etc. Mark Russinovich used to be an independent developer, who seemed to know more about windows than the windows developers themselves. Now he seems to be on the MS payroll. I use his utilities daily.

"The Dude" network utility from MikroTik... very nice utility for keeping an eye on what's going on with the network.

CYGWIN... for a linux guy, this will be the next best thing to home. But keep in mind its living on top of windows, so you will probably run in to some irritating limitations. Still, you'll have some familiar tools.

Look up "god mode" for windows ... it puts all the most used windows sysadmin tools in one place. Nice little easter egg from MS.

And then of course, there's google, which will become your new best friend all over again.

  • For GodMode, create a directory named God Mode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}
    – Warner
    Jul 29, 2010 at 2:51
  • cygwin is terribly bloated because it aims for full POSIX emulation. If you just want your "basic GNU tools", msys is far smaller and nicer (and it doesn't try and hide the fact that it's living on a Windows filesystem).
    – Andrew
    Jul 29, 2010 at 5:53
  • I have (and use) Cygwin, which is great, but without having something to operate on, and knowing what to do, it's of limited value. You can't grep for a file in /etc if there's no /etc! I'm a little tempted to learn Powershell, in fact, but it seems so complex.
    – Ken
    Jul 29, 2010 at 17:28

Just as there's no quick and easy way for a Windows admin to switch to *nix, there's no easy way to do the reverse. The one thing you absolutely must do, unless you want to end up bald and half-crazed, is to pretty much forget what you know of HOW to do things in Linux (as opposed to WHAT to do). When faced with Windows stop thinking Linux and stop thinking they should be similar. They're not, yet it's the biggest stumbling block for those who won't accept that simple fact. You may as well be comparing dogs and chickens.

As for how to start, I suggest attending a suitable course or two if possible. Which one(s) will depend on the area you which to focus on first. Most training centers will be able to advise you further, so even if it's only to get an idea of where to start, give them a call and get a recommendation.

Another way to get a good start, as well as providing long term reference material, is to grab a good book or two and start reading. I've always been a fan of Mark Minasi's books in the "Mastering..." series, which in my opinion are particularly good for newbie Windows admins to get their head around the various Windows Server versions.

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