Death to Windows AutoRun!

Posted by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

The economy might be in ruins, and swine flu might put us all in pine boxes, but there are still things that we can be happy about. One thing that has put a broad grin on my face over the past day or so is news that Microsoft plans to kill off AutoRun.

I’m so happy I’m going to go a quick dance to celebrate the beginning of the end of this annoying and, as it turned out, dangerous feature …

… OK, I’m back.

AutoRun has been around for a long time, since Windows 95, and it was a feature that made it easier for users to figure out what to do with their AOL discs (OK, not just AOL CDs, but I wonder whether AOL would have become as big as it did without the help of AutoRun). However, as soon as the Conficker worm leveraged AutoRun for its own evil purposes, AutoRun’s days were numbered (Conficker wasn’t the first bit of malware to make use of AutoRun, but it certainly was the most high profile).

So, here’s what’s going to happen. First, AutoRun is gone from Windows 7 RC. AutoPlay (introduced in Windows XP) still exists, but its powers have been neutered.

Note: Confused as to the difference between AutoRun and AutoPlay? Microsoft’s Damian Hasse explains the difference:

AutoRun is a technology used to start some programs automatically when a CD or another media is inserted into a computer. The main purpose of AutoRun is to provide a software response to hardware actions that a user starts on a computer.

AutoPlay is a Windows feature that lets a user select which program starts when a specific type of media, such as music CDs, or DVDs containing photos, is inserted. During AutoPlay, the Autorun.inf file from the media is also parsed. This file (if available) specifies additional commands that will be displayed in the AutoPlay menu. Many companies use this functionality to help initiate their installers.

OK, but what about all those Windows XP and Windows Vista users out there? Well, there’s good news for them too, as Microsoft has promised to backport the changes in Windows 7 to XP and Vista. However, there’s no timeline as to when XP and Vista users will see this update.

XP and Vista (and Windows Server 2008) users can manually disable AutoRun, but if you do this you have to install a patch to ensure that the feature will be properly disabled before you disable AutoRun (the link to the patch also contains information on how to disable AutoRun).

Goodbye AutoRun … you’ll be missed in much the same way as I miss the last bout of stomach flu I had.

Adrian is a technology journalist and author who has devoted over a decade to helping users get the most from technology. He also runs a popular blog called The PC Doctor. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations