Many people are creating CD-ROM disks of their genealogy data. Creating your own CD-ROM disks has become very cost-effective in the past year or so; internal CD-ROM writers now sell for as little as $39.95 and frequently come packaged with new computers. The blank disks are also cheap. It is now easy to write your reports and databases to a CD-ROM disk to give to someone else.
Many commercial CD-ROM disks use an AutoPlay feature. That is, when the CD-ROM disk is inserted into a Windows system, it automatically loads and executes a program of the manufacturer's choosing. Starting with Windows 95, Microsoft introduced a new technology called AutoPlay that makes working with CD-ROMs a bit easier for the user. When the user inserts a disk into the CD-ROM drive, the CD-ROM device driver that comes with the system is notified. When the driver receives this notification, it tells the system, which immediately looks in the root directory of the CD-ROM disk for a file called AUTORUN.INF, which apparently stands for "Automatic Run Information." Windows then executes the instructions contained in AUTORUN.INF, typically loading a program stored on the CD-ROM disk. However, AutoPlay can also load Internet Explorer or some other program stored on the C: drive.
NOTE: AutoRun was probably enabled when your Windows computer was brand new although I do know some people have turned that off.
I have rarely seen AutoPlay used on home-produced CD-ROM disks although the method of doing so is very simple. AutoPlay is especially useful when giving a CD-ROM disk to someone who is not very computer literate. Simply inserting the disk and watching the results is much easier for the computer novice than the normal instructions of "open Windows Explorer, find your CD-ROM drive, go to the root directory, double-click on...." Computer novices often cannot follow such instructions. AutoPlay is especially effective for "slide shows" delivered on CD-ROM; the user can simply insert the disk, then sit back and watch the show.
For a home user who knows enough to create their own CD-ROM disks, it should not be too difficult to create the AUTORUN.INF file that will enable AutoPlay. A simple text file that you create and put into the root directory of the CD-ROM causes the AutoPlay feature to take over.
Here is a sample AUTORUN.INF file:
If placed in the root directory of a CD-ROM disk, this 3-line file will cause the program SETUP.EXE on the CD-ROM disk to be automatically loaded and started whenever the disk is inserted into the CD drive. Many people do not know that the same thing works for floppy disks, ZIP disks, USB drives, or any other removable media.
You can easily create such a file with Windows Notepad or any other ASCII text editor. However, for a bit more sophistication, you might want to use one of the free programs that will create AUTORUN.INF files for you.
One such free program is called Autorun.inf Editor at: http://www.karenware.com/powertools/ptautorun.asp. This one claims to be able to automatically launch HTML files at startup, something that is a bit complicated to set up manually.
Another free program is Autorun.inf.Maker. It is available at: http://www.ashzfall.com/products/autorun
ShellExe is another free program to launch HTML documents in an Autorun.inf file. This is a great tool if you are distributing files in Web (HTML) format. ShellExe is available at http://www.whirlywiryweb.com/q%2Fshellexe.asp