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AutoRun (and AutoPlay) is one of the most annoying features found in Windows. It's annoying because for most of the time, automatical starting of installers or such is not what the user really wants.

I don't want the "defaults". If I want to run something from CD-ROM, I open the CD-ROM. If I want to start a game, I double-click on the icon. Or, if I absolutely need the autorun, I double-click the CD-ROM in "My Computer".

I developed a habit of pushing the left shift key when inserting CDs to the drive to skip AutoRun... everywhere... in other OSes... psychosis getting stronger and stronger and stronger every time... the annoying installers popping up in my dreams...

The AutoRun case was nowhere near finished...
...but I was too tired to go on.

I had to disable the feature.

Unluckily, Windows doesn't have an obvious way of disabling the autorun feature. The only way to do this is to go to the CD-ROM drive's properties (it's buried somewhere in the hidden corner of the control panel) and turn the drive's "insert notification" off. This also has the annoying habit of not letting Windows to know there is a CD in the drive; if I want to open the autorun window anyway, I need to refresh the My Computer view.

(Mike1024 told me that a new version of TweakUI from PowerToys lets to disable autorun without disabling insert notification...)

These days, I've got rid of that "shift key" habit. I'm a positive individual. I love these CD-ROMs again.

(Note: Terminology here may be different from real world, as I've only used the Finnish localized version of Win9x.)

Under Windows Operating Systems, inserting a CD into your CD drive (audio or data) will commonly cause a program to run. Audio CDs cause the program associated with audio CDs (typically Winamp or Windows Media Player) to start, while data CDs commonly cause a developer-specified program to run (usually an install executable).

Autorun (aka autoplay) data CDs check for a file named AUTORUN.INF in the root directory of the CD in order to determine which program to execute.

Your typical AUTORUN.INF:

[autorun]
OPEN=SETUP.EXE
ICON=IMAGES\CDICON.ICO
How to (temporarily) disable autoplay/autorun:

Hold down the left shift key until the CD drive has finished its initial spin.

How to (permanently) disable autoplay/autorun:

  1. Click Start -> Settings -> Control Panel
  2. Double-click the System icon
  3. Under the Device Manager tab, click the plus sign next to 'CDROM'
  4. Double-click the entry for your CD drive
  5. Under the Settings tab, uncheck the Auto Insert Notification box
Voila!

This is not only a misfeature, this goes against one of the fundamental principles in informational security: in a data exchange between systems, don't mix the data with instructions on how to process it, or if somebody does it to you, never accept the instructions from untrusted sources. This is why Java applets are run in a sandbox, and why .rpm and .deb packages come signed. Against a CD-ROM in Windows, you have no protection, except what? Holding Shift down, uttering a prayer to God Allmighty? Gimme a break. I can "play" CD-ROMs myself, thank you very much!

Windows 2000, an allegedly stable and secure operating system, has a number of so-called security policies, with which I can disable things at my heart's desire. But why this "Autorun" abomination is not among these policies is beyond me. No, it takes downloading the TweakUI add-on to be able to turn it off, and it's provocatively filed under the "Paranoia" tab.

OK, now you know I'm paranoid. Just as the next person with this disorder, I have my theory. Autorun is a pet feature of a senior Microsoft exec, and it is pushed by this person through every release, poo-pooing warnings from security analysts. Or maybe they have a secret agenda to discourage use of "dubious" discs, thereby suppressing piracy?

Anyway, now you can crash your computer with the new copy-perverted Celine Dion CD, without any effort! All you have to do is to put the CD in.

The AutoRun feature in Windows does not only apply to CDs. You can create an autorun.inf file using the format specified above by dotc and save it onto a floppy disk, and it will work the same way. However, what is more fun to do is create an autorun.inf on the root of your hard drive, leaving out the line that starts with OPEN=, and your hard drive will now be represented everywhere by the icon file you specify! No more boring grey square thing!

If you need icon files, a Google search for "windows icons" or somesuch should produce good results.

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