AutoPlay is a feature in Windows that automatically scans a device when it is connected to your computer and, depending on your settings, either does the specified action or does nothing. However, to understand AutoPlay, you also need to understand another very similar function called AutoRun.
Most people think that AutoRun and AutoPlay are just two terms for the same thing, but they are not. Autoplay is a feature that first appeared in Windows 95! What was the point in that? To make app installation easier for non-technical professionals. If the CD contains a file named autorun.inf in the root directory, Windows will detect it automatically and follow the instructions in that file.
This file is usually very simple and basically points to a file on disk, usually a setup file or setup file. Here’s an example of one of them:
On Windows XP and earlier, the file will be read and automatically launched without any prompts. If you’ve ever inserted an installation CD / DVD for a hardware or program in Windows XP or earlier, it would just run the installer.
This obviously posed serious security risks, and Microsoft introduced AutoPlay as a solution to the problem. AutoPlay’s job is to examine a newly connected media device, determine what content is on it, and then display a dialog box that allows the user to launch the application to play, launch, or display the content.
Now, depending on the operating system you are using, autorun and autorun will work differently. In all versions of Windows prior to Windows Vista, AutoPlay occurs before AutoPlay unless AutoPlay is disabled. If not disabled, AutoRun will search for the AutoRun.inf file.
On Windows XP, if an autorun.inf file is found, AutoRun can proceed and bypass AutoPlay entirely and launch the application without first prompting the user.
In Windows Vista and above, Autoplay cannot be skipped when Autoplay is enabled. If there is an AutoRun.inf file, it will still be read, but instead of the application starting automatically, a dialog box appears with a list of options, some of which may be from the autorun.inf file.
Autoplay versus Autoplay example
To clarify this, let’s look at an example. I have an MSI driver CD that I will insert in Windows XP, Windows 7, and Windows 10 to see what happens. Simple AutoRun.inf file shown in the screenshot above.
In Windows XP, the disc is read, the autorun.inf file is detected, and the MSI installer appears automatically on the screen.
However, when I insert the same CD in Windows 7, the following autoplay dialog appears instead:
As you can see it tries to run the DVDsetup.exe file mentioned in the autorun.inf file, but now you have the option to choose. It’s the same with Windows 10. This is where you first get a notification on your screen.
If you click on this, the AutoPlay dialog box will open where you can choose which action to take.
In general, even if you can turn off the autorun feature in Windows 7 and later, it will not harm your computer because no program can be launched without your permission. All AutoPlay does is detect media and display options for you.
On the other hand, if you are using Windows XP, it would be a good idea to disable autoplay, because on this operating system, programs can still run without user consent.
Configure Windows 7 Autoplay
It’s worth noting that in Windows 7, you can change the autorun settings to mimic Windows XP. You might not want to do this, but this is an option.
To set up autorun, click Start and type autorun. Select the first option at the top.
This will open up a gigantic list of items that can be customized individually. Fortunately, in Windows 10, this list has been greatly reduced, as you will see below. Please note: if you want to completely disable autoplay in Windows 7, just uncheck the “Use autoplay for all media and devices” checkbox at the very top.
The reason I got a popup dialog when installing the software CD was because the Software and Games was set to Ask me every time. You can change this to “Install or run the program from your media”, “Open folder to view files” or “Take no action.”
The list of possible options will depend on the type of media connected. For example, an Audio CD or DVD movie can be played using Windows Media Player. If you connect a device with images or videos, you will have the option to automatically import objects. In addition to the standard items, if you have ever connected other devices to your computer, such as a smartphone or tablet, they will be displayed at the very bottom.
Configure AutoPlay in Windows 10
In Windows 10, click Start and type AutoPlay to open the AutoPlay Settings dialog box. As you can see, Windows 7 only has two options instead of many. As with Windows 7, if you plugged in any other external device, they will appear after the removable disk and memory card.
The options you can take are pretty much the same. For me, every time I connected my iPhone, it tried to import them to OneDrive, which I didn’t want. This is where you can turn it off.
From my testing it seems to me that the memory card settings are used when you insert a DVD or CD.
Since most people are using the latest versions of Windows, you no longer need to worry about anything other than autorun. It is also a simple process to disable or enable autoplay in Windows, if you like. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to comment. Enjoy!