As inconvenient as it may seem, this is really a good thing.
What’s most likely happened is that the “auto run” feature has been turned off – either on your system or on that specific drive. That means that by definition nothing happens when you insert a disc.
The reason that’s a good thing is that autorun is one way – one very effective way – that malware can spread; you unsuspectingly insert a USB stick or malicious CD or DVD and without your needing to do anything else malware is automatically run and infects your machine.
So rather than making it easier for hackers to spread malware to your machine, let’s look at what you can do instead.
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Run Autorun Manually
I’ll use my original copy of World of Warcraft, a computer game distributedon DVD, as an example here.
When I insert The WoW DVD into my machine nothing happens. That’s on purpose because I have auto run (also termed auto-play) turned off.
I can then open Windows Explorer to see the drive:
Any disk or USB device that would otherwise auto-run will appear in Windows Explorer as another disk drive. Here my DVD player is drive E:, and you can see that the World of Warcraft disk is inserted.
Right clicking on the drive icon gives us our first clue:
As you can see there are two options of interest: “Install or run program from your media”, which is bolded to show that it’s the default action should you double-click on the drive’s icon to run it, and “Open Autoplay…”.
That default action, nine times out of ten, is probably what you want. Just double click on the drive icon and what use to happen automatically should happen at your direction.
Just make sure that it’s a disc you know and who’s contents you trust.
“Open Autoplay…” is a way to dig one level deeper:
Windows explorer shows what program it would run to “Install or run” – something called “Installer.exe” that’s on the DVD.
Or you can view the contents of the media.
Examine the Media
Looking at what’s on the disk is probably a good idea if you’re not sure just what you have. Opening Windows Explorer on the drive will show you the contents:
As you can see “Installer.exe” is there, along with assorted support files that presumably contain the application to be installed.
If you’re at all concerned about security, or you’re not sure exactly what should be run on this disc or any reason, is the “aurorun.inf” file (you may need to have “view hidden files” enabled in Windows Explorer). It’s just a text file, so use Notepad to open it and you’ll see something like this:
There you can see that the instructions for autorun are to run the program “Installer.exe” when the disc is inserted. If autorun is disabled, then that’s the program Windows Explorer will have listed when we right click on the icon, or run had we double-clicked on it.
Just Use Windows Explorer
Another approach – and to be honest, the approach that I use – is to ignore all this autoplay stuff, and just use Windows Explorer.
Simply look at what’s on the disc and act accordingly.
Insert the disc, open the drive in Windows Explorer and then run the program you want to run (perhaps an installation program, as we saw in the example above), open the files you want to open (maybe it’s a CD full of pictures or documents), or copy the data I want to copy (in the case of a disc of data that you want to copy to your machine).
Yes, it’s a little less convenient, and it does require that you more-or-less know what’s on the disc and what to do with it.
And, to be honest, that knowledge is useful in identifying things you don’t want – like malware.
Ignore the Disc, Run the Program
This is kind of a special case, but it’s an important one as it’s perhaps a common case that can be handled very easily.
Let’s say you receive a CD full of photos.
Skip Windows Explorer, and skip browsing the disc with it.
Instead, open your image viewing program, and use its built-in browse or file open functionality to view the contents of the disc.
For example I have a shortcut to the FastStone Image Viewer on my start menu – when I get a CD full of images I start FastStone, and use its browsing function to open the CD and browse its contents.
Photos are just one example – music, documents, videos all fall into this category. Rather than opening the document to start the associated program, run the program and then choose the documents to open.
All of which completely bypasses autorun – enabled or not.