Ever wonder why DVD movies automatically start playing the moment you pop them into your PC? Or why nothing at all happens when you insert a blank CD? Or connecting your iPhone causes an options window to appear? It's all controlled by Windows' AutoPlay feature, which is designed to kick into action--or not--when you connect a device or insert some kind of media.
Windows Vista and Windows 7 offer very granular control over AutoPlay, allowing you to modify the settings for just about every type of media and device imaginable: DVDs, memory cards, MP3 players, and so on. Let's take a look at this handy tool, starting with how to access it:
Click Start, type auto, then click AutoPlay.
Complicated, right? You could also delve into the Control Panel and find the AutoPlay settings there, but that's just unnecessary extra effort. Either way, here's what you'll see (I've included an expanded pull-down menu to give you an idea for some of the options--but you'll likely see at least some different ones on your PC):
For starters, make sure the checkbox is checked for Use Autoplay for all media and devices. That's basically the "on" switch for AutoPlay. If it's not checked, nothing will happen when you insert or connect anything.
Next, find the option you want to modify, click the menu alongside it, and choose your desired action. For example, if you have iTunes on your PC but want to audio CDs to play in Windows Media Center, click the menu next to Audio CD, then choose Play Audio CD using Windows Media Player.
Alternately, you might want to select Ask me every time, in which case inserting a disc will open an AutoPlay window, where you can pick which player you want (among other available options). That's my preferred choice for a lot of media and devices, as I don't always want to perform the same action every time.
When you're all done tweaking the settings, make sure to click Save. The changes should go into effect immediately (i.e. you don't need to reboot or anything).
Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at firstname.lastname@example.org, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community Forums.