Why does Windows XP SP2 sometimes forget my CD autoplay settings?

Date:June 3, 2005 / year-entry #139
Tags:tipssupport
Orig Link:https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/oldnewthing/20050603-42/?p=35443
Comments:    34
Summary:It didn't forget them; it's just double-checking with you. The developer responsible for CD autoplay in Windows XP SP2 explained it to me. There were two problems with the way Windows XP handled CD autoplay. First, when you installed a new program that included CD autoplay capability, many users didn't know where in the UI to go to select that new...

It didn't forget them; it's just double-checking with you.

The developer responsible for CD autoplay in Windows XP SP2 explained it to me. There were two problems with the way Windows XP handled CD autoplay.

First, when you installed a new program that included CD autoplay capability, many users didn't know where in the UI to go to select that new program as their default CD autoplay program. If they had previously selected a program and ticked "Always perform this action", there was no easily-discoverable way to undo the "always" flag to make the dialog reappeared and allow the user to select the new program instead.

Second, many programs, upon installation, secretly hacked the undocumented CD autoplay settings in order to set themselves as the default CD autoplay handler, gleefully overriding the user's previously-stated preference. Because these programs egotistically believed themselves to be the coolest most amazing program ever written in the history of mankind.

In other words, the two problems were, "I just installed this program and I want it to be the CD autoplay program" and its converse "I just installed this program and I don't want it to be the CD autoplay program".

Windows XP SP2 introduced new behavior related to CD autoplay in an attempt to address these problems: When it sees that a new CD autoplay handler is available, it shows you the CD autoplay dialog one more time. This gives you a chance to (a) pick that new program you just installed, or (b) un-pick that program you just installed (if it was presumptuously rude enough to set itself as your default).

The first time you insert a CD into your computer after upgrading to Windows XP SP2, you will also get the CD autoplay dialog. This is a "better late than never" dialog to cover for any handlers that were installed before you upgraded to Windows XP SP2.

What's the moral of the story? Whereas in the old days, you only had to worry about helping other programmers interface with your feature, in the new software landscape, you also have to worry about stopping programmers who are trying to abuse your interface.


Comments (34)
  1. Anonymous Coward says:

    For what it’s worth, this anonymous poster agrees . . .

  2. What about the issue where CD/DVD drives stop "updating" at all? When you can put a CD/DVD in the drive, and it will still display the icon and name of the old media.

    It’s a rare bug (in all my windows installs at least) but when it happens, I’ve not found a way to correct it so far.

  3. teh win says:

    It seems that a better solution would be to make the cd autplay settings more "discoverable" to cover the first problem, and fix the second problem the same way as the pin to start menu issue got solved. Is there any reason to have a programmatic interface to the cd autoplay settings? I mean, it seems that the only purpose would be to cause this problem.

    Or perhaps I misinterpreted – maybe there wasn’t intended to be programmatic access, and some programmers have found an undocumented way to change the setting.

    Still though, it seems like bothering the user isn’t the best way to fix a UI problem and an "other programmers suck" problem. Why not put the interface somewhere discoverable, and obfuscate the internals of it some more?

  4. Centaur says:

    The best solution would be to do away with autoplay, and let the users explicitly tell what they want. Put a DVD in, open Media Player Classic, click File|Open DVD. Put a CD in, open FAR Manager, navigate to W:, start setup.exe. Put a blank CD-R in, open Nero Burning ROM, burn a disc. No need to insult users by guessing what they want, incorrectly.

    Alas, we already know there are so many users who are unable to express what they want.

  5. Jack Mathews says:

    "Or perhaps I misinterpreted – maybe there wasn’t intended to be programmatic access, and some programmers have found an undocumented way to change the setting. "

    It says this explicitly in the post – "Second, many programs, upon installation, secretly hacked the undocumented CD autoplay settings…"

  6. ReuvenLax says:

    Re: when the cd drive stops updating.

    This has happened to me several times, and is usually followed by the cd drive completely vanishing from my system. We managed to track this down to the cd drive taking an overly long time to respond to requests. The driver hits it’s timeout, and eventually causes PnP to uninstall the device. This is a bug in the hardware, so your best bet is to see if the manufacturer has published any firmware updates.

    That being said, the immediate solution to this problem is to go to Device Manager and choose Scan For Hardware Changes. If the drive is still hanging this might not help, so you might need to wait a couple of minutes before doing this.

  7. Rick C says:

    Here’s a "abuse the user" tale. I bought several Wi-Fi NICs recently. I forget which one did it, but it was either Linksys or Belkin. The driver is not digitally signed, so Windows XP throws the new "potentially unsafe driver" dialog. The instructions say "this is just a formality, go ahead and click Continue."

  8. Dave Goodman says:

    That’s almost as convoluted as the unspoken dating rules people observe (or fail to, as the geek may be).

  9. Mihai says:

    I like my taskbar to show the "Quick Launch" and "Desktop", so I just right-click -> Toolbars and select what I need. And in "Quick Launch" I sort my icons how I want.

    But once in a while, after I shut down Windows, the two toolbars are gone. No new installs, nothing. Also tried to lock the taskbar, they still dissapear.

    So I go and show them again. But the icons in the "Quick Launch" are sorted alfabetically.

    So I have renamed them to say 01-OriginalName 02-… etc.

    This was never a problem in 2000, but on XP it happens on more than a machine, and it was also a problem before SP2.

    Why do I have to fight the system like this?

    Someone considers this a feature?

  10. So how long will it be before the makers of the software that stomps on your settings reverse engineers the code that detects the settings change and figures out how to fake THAT code out?

  11. Ivan Leo says:

    What I don’t understand is why it’s so hard to disable autoplay. A friend of mine that was using mainly windows up to not long ago has always complained to me that in any version of win he’s tried, windows just forgets that autoplay is off, and the stuff specified in autorun.inf is run even with autoplay off. He found this both on win9x and on the NT product line. Well, now he just uses that other os so the problem has gone away, still I wonder why you can’t figure out a way to allow the user to kill autoplay for good.

  12. For Ivan:

    Start > Run

    Type in: gpedit.msc

    Local Computer Policy > User Configuration > Administrative Templates > System

    Double click the option: Turn off autoplay

    Click Enabled

    For everyone else:

    Interestingly, one of the most obscure autoplay settings is in Windows Media Player.

    Aside from installing something else, how would you change the behaviour of a program like WMP once it has decided that it will be the program for DVD’s?

    This question was asked very recently on my forum, and my answer was to tell the user to use gpedit.msc to disable Autoplay alltogether.

    The user is happy, which is cool… but I just come away with a feeling of being dirty having both told a user to even touch gpedit, and further at not discovering a prefered method to change the Autoplay behaviour for just one type of media simply.

  13. Tempus says:

    There a key hold down trick, shift? control? (sorry but I don’t need to use it that often, so I forget what it is) that will disable autoplay. You hold down that key on the keyboard when inserting the cd, and keep doing so until you see the drive stop accessing. Highly useful if you are running into some kind of autoplay madness that is messing things up, or things like mixed media CD’s where you just want to listen to the music without playing their cute menu program.

    There’s other good uses for this feature, but I cannot tell you what they might or might not be, because it is a violation of the digital millenium act to share any information that might be used to defeat copy protection features of things such as the new Dave Matthews CD I bought a few weeks back.. hmmm wait, then again actually defeating the copy protection is perhaps an even more severe offense of the law, so um I guess that I had best officially warn you that holding down that key while inserting the copy protected audio CD is something you should never ever do under any circumstances since it would make you guilty of a violating the DMCA and you could be subject to jail time, fines, etc once the feds or riaa catch up to ya.

  14. tsrblke says:

    Rick C.,

    Regarding the driver install (and I’m fairly certain that’s a linksys thing although it could be Belkin as well.) I wouldn’t nessicarily call that "abusing the user" As I remember Windows throws that dialogue box up when anything that’s not WHQL certified is installed. I for one have a far number of non-WHQL drivers on my PC because sometimes WHQL doesn’t certify them fast enough, and I need whatever fix was added in driver version 1.XX. If you look at Linksys driver histories and such, they typically try to actually address a problem in each release as opposed to just throwing a release out there.

    Now I’m no expert on WHQL, so I am curious why it seems like some companies, (i.e. Linksys) have so many non WHQL drivers floating around out there. I will say on my current Wi-Fi card the Windows built in drivers were less than perfect compared to the manufactor drivers, which weren’t perfect either. Finally about 6 months later a Window’s Update Driver came along (I’ll be honest, I’m lazy and don’t search the manufactor’s site for drivers that often.) that seemed to clean up alot of my problems. (Which were mostly random drops and such.)

  15. Dave says:

    There are very few Windows problems so complicated that I have given up. AutoPlay is one of them. My wife had a camera that used to bring up the Camera and Scanner Wizard in AutoPlay when she plugged it in. Sometime last fall it just stopped working, period. Now I know this isn’t unique because MS has created a whole Wizard to unscrew it:

    http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=C680A7B6-E8FA-45C4-A171-1B389CFACDAD&displaylang=en

    But this problem even beat the wiz. I told her she would have to get used to dragging and dropping the pics from Explorer folders, or I could reformat and she could spend days resetting all kinds of preferences. She chose the dragging and dropping.

    This experience really brought home to me the reason why most non-tech people really hate computers. I wish I knew who to blame.

  16. James says:

    Oh cool, I’d not even noticed that there was an autoplay tab on drive properties. Thanks for making me wonder how to change it without the help of magic.

  17. Sometimes you WANT the program to handle autoplay – for example, you might want WinAmp to play music CDs as soon as you insert them.

  18. Robert Hir says:

    Per: "#by Jon Ballinger

    What about the issue where CD/DVD drives stop "updating" at all? When you can put a CD/DVD in the drive, and it will still display the icon and name of the old media.

    It’s a rare bug (in all my windows installs at least) but when it happens, I’ve not found a way to correct it so far. "

    Device manager, remove that CD device, rescan/re-add, it starts reading every disk you put in, until the issue occurs again. I go about a month inbetween issues.

  19. nobody says:

    Here’s a "abuse the user" tale. I bought several Wi-Fi NICs recently.

    > The driver is not digitally signed, so Windows XP throws the new

    > "potentially unsafe driver" dialog. The instructions say "this is just

    > a formality, go ahead and click Continue."

    I have heard a tale where an installer runs code to automatically click that ‘Continue’ button for you. I hope it is not true, but would not realy be surprised if it would be true.

  20. Michael K says:

    re: "What about the issue where CD/DVD drives stop "updating" at all? When you can put a CD/DVD in the drive, and it will still display the icon and name of the old media."

    I’ve had this problem on and off for the last few years (although I’ve yet to have it appear since I installed XP SP2). I could almost always get the drive to update by right-clicking the drive in Explorer and selecting "eject". Then, when I reinserted the disc, it would recognise it as being new.

  21. foxyshadis says:

    I have heard a tale where an installer runs code to automatically click that

    >’Continue’ button for you. I hope it is not true, but would not realy be

    >surprised if it would be true.

    It’s more common than you think, quite a few installers and programs do it. For instance, Chapura pocketmirror interfaces with outlook, and instead of having the user click away outlook’s ‘do you want to interface with this COM object’, it does it itself.

    Any code with general access on your system can do anything a human can, with enough low-level KVM grubbing.

  22. Hey, when you run poledit… and check "Hide All Desktop Icons"… WHY does it disable autoplay too? What’s the connection?

  23. Manip says:

    I disabled AutoPlay completely after an *audio CD* installed some anti-piracy driver / software on my system without permission… It is now part of my standard installation (I have added it to my *.reg and all).

    WMP is one of these "Icon Spam" offenders, but worse are QuickTime and Real<Shudder>Player.

  24. Ian Argent says:

    The WIDCDOMM Bluetooth driver stack apparently turns off unsigned driver warnings when installing (it gives you the option as to whether you want to leave it on as well); supposedly because MS didn’t do WHQL signing of BT drivers when they were written (going by the documentation). OTOH, you *can* see it go into system properties, and it does ask your permission, but…

  25. Rick C says:

    tsrblke: "I wouldn’t nessicarily call that "abusing the user" As I remember Windows throws that dialogue box up when anything that’s not WHQL certified is installed."

    You could certainly make the argument that it’s not abusing the user. Perhaps a bad choice of word on my part? Calling the "This driver isn’t WHQL" dialog "a formality" and to ignore it strikes me as dangerously close to lying, however. It’s certainly dishonest.

    Now I know that some companies love to throw out frequent driver updates and only WHQL them every six months or whatever, but to tell the user to ignore security warnings is kinda crazy.

  26. gnobal says:

    What about selecting "Properties" for that specific drive you’re trying to set the default for? You can change (or undo) your selection there (in the "AutoPlay" tab). I consider this "easily discoverable", but I guess that’s open for debate (IMHO, putting it in the Device Manager would be undiscoverable for the common user).

    My real problem with the popup window that asks me what to do is that I always choose "Take No Action" and this will never change, no matter what programs I install. I would expect this to be a special case that will prevent AutoPlay from asking me again and again what to do, especially if there are no new programs (registered to play the CD) to show me in the list.

  27. Merle says:

    I always disable autoplay. I’ve seen it become re-enabled, but usually it was after a windows update, or installation of some software that thought it should enable it for me — DVD players often do this. Just stick to an old Win95 system like me and you’ll have no problems. ;-)

    And, yeah, the shift key works. If you’re willing to hold it down for however long it takes the disc to be recognized by Windows. I’m not. Many CDRs can take upwards of fifteen seconds.

    But it would be nice if there was an easy place to configure these things. *shudder* "My Event Handlers", no doubt.

  28. mallardtheduck says:

    What I find most annoying about autoplay is that it seems to identify and disc containing even a single image as "Pictures"! I have discs with plenty of word documents, programs and miscellaneous files, and maybe 5 or so images, yet it says it contains "Pictures". What algorithm is the thing using to establish what it contains? It seems badly flawed to me.

  29. terrifyingly real omnipresent lupine latrine says:

    An employee suggested to me that we install autoplay on a few machines here as an evaluation. I was skeptical at first but he explained the benefits of using autoplay instead of having to start CDs manually. I decided to let him install it on 5 machines to see how the employees got on. Besides, our IT manager had been using autoplay at home and he hadn’t reported any problems – why not try it on our employees?

    Once he’d got the employees up and running with autoplay we let them try it out. It all seemed fine to start with: The autoplay systems was a pretty good replacement for those shitty manual boxes we’d used before and the employees could still do their work as normal.

    Alas it did not stay that way. After a few days, I had lost count of the number of complaints received from our employees. Users could not do things they could before (like read their email). The final straw came when one employee lost several hours work when Office suddenly froze up, destroying the 70 page legal document he had been working on (subsequently, the defendant was sentenced to death.)

    Needless to say, the autoplay community, having been stagnant for half a decade, offered no support whatsoever. I made the employee destroy the autoplay systems and lets just say he’s not with us anymore.

  30. Merle says:

    I do not know if this is still the case, but back in olden days, autoplay meant that there was no reason to lock your computer when you left it.

    Sure, go ahead and lock your computer, let your screensaver kick in, whatever. All I need to do is burn a CD with an autorun.inf that does what I want to do. Maybe a macro player that shares your drives read/write. Maybe something worse. Windows still played the disc, even though one would have hoped that locking the workstation would have stopped this.

    (anyone want to see if this is still the case on XP?)

  31. Norman Diamond says:

    It didn’t forget them; it’s just

    > double-checking with you.

    Well it’s been double-checking every time, no matter how many times I tell it "do nothing" and "remember this setting", it never remembers. It doesn’t matter if I haven’t installed any new software in the past 3 days. (Had to correct this from "past 3 months" because there are Windows Updates more frequently than that.) It’s been the same since Windows XP RTM and did not change with SP1, SP1a, or SP2.

    Worse is that it does the same when attaching a USB hard drive. Instead of deciding it’s going to search 4GB of files for what I’ve told it not to do, it decides it’s going to search 120GB of files for what I’ve told it not to do. On this one, TweakUI to the rescue. With TweakUI, we can shut off autorun for drive letters other than the CD/DVD drive, and it works.

    Mr. Chen, you should have known not to believe your colleagues. You’re the only one with a working solution.

    Friday, June 03, 2005 10:25 AM by ReuvenLax

    > Re: when the cd drive stops updating.

    > We managed to track this down to the cd

    > drive taking an overly long time to respond

    > to requests.

    OK, you found a reason, but you didn’t find the only one. Other continuing problems are that sometimes the drive gets 2 or 3 icons in Windows Explorer and we have to guess which one’s going to work and which one isn’t, and other random stuff. Actually I’ve never had the PnP manager uninstall a drive due to this garbage, so I don’t think I’ve ever been hit by the reason that you gave.

    Friday, June 03, 2005 5:29 PM by nobody

    > I have heard a tale where an installer runs

    > code to automatically click that ‘Continue’

    > button for you.

    It’s true. One example is a driver that’s installed by a particular company’s anti virus program. Microsoft’s web page used to boast of their partnership with that company and gave a link to a page from which Microsoft customers could download that anti virus program with free updates for a year. The program actually did perform respectably as an anti virus program, but it had side effects. While installing itself, it also installed an unsigned driver which attached itself to floppy drives. And while installing itself, it automatically clicked that "Continue" button so that you’d never know the driver got added. And after that, whenever you asked Windows XP for permission to disconnect your USB floppy drive, you got a blue screen. The vendor belatedly fixed their driver without even telling their own support staff about it. But they still automatically click the "Continue" button so that you don’t know the installer is shoving in the new version of that unsigned driver.

  32. Call me cynical but… ¿how much time left until they "autoclick continue" on a EULA screen?

  33. David Walker says:

    I would like to see a response to mallardtheduck’s comment.

    The Autoplay tab says "Select a content type, then choose an action for Windows to perform automatically when that type is used in the device". OK, if I have program A handle mixed content on a CD drive, and program B handle pictures, then if an inserted CD has pictures and ONE other file of a different type (say a thumbnail file), is that a "mixed" CD or a Pictures CD? How is "mixed" determined?

    Say I pick "take no action" for Mixed, and I pick program A for music files, and program B for video files, if I insert a CD with 10 music files and 10 video files, what happens?

    I’ll have to try it, when I get time, but it would be nice if this behavior was documented somewhere.

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