March 6, 2001

By Karen Kenworthy


Finally! My Non-Disclosure agreement has expired. For two months I've been sworn to secrecy, biting my tongue. But now I'm free! Free to disclose the most exciting development of this, or any other, year!

Many of you will remember lovely Monica, the young woman who used to keep my office in order. Early last November she married the love of her life, her beau Bill. They honeymooned in Scotland, then returned to settle near the secluded Power Tools workshop.

For the last four months they've been the model of wedded bliss. Well, almost. About two months ago Monica became reclusive. When you did see her she was often pale and nauseated. Especially in the morning, she couldn't seem to keep any food down.

The young couple wanted to keep their secret for a few months but now the news is out. Monica is going to be a mother and Bill will be a father! Into the world has come one child who doesn't yet know yet how lucky he or she is.

Flying Folders

While Monica has been adjusting to her new condition, you and I have been having fun talking about a program called Karen's Autorun.inf Editor. This little Power Tool makes it easy to create a special file, named Autorun.inf, that causes programs to be run automatically when a Compact Disc is inserted into a CD drive.

Last week a new helper program, PTStart, debuted. This program enhances Windows' Autorun feature, allowing documents and other disk files to be automatically opened when a CD is inserted. Now, a CD can automatically display a help file, photo album, play a song, or show a movie.

PTSTart has a few other tricks up its sleeve. It can also enable a CD to automatically launch a person's Web browser and navigate to a particular URL each time a CD is inserted. This could allow a program to provide people with last minute updates and information, or encourage folks to register their software. PTStart can even launch your e-mail program, automatically addressing a note to the recipient you choose.

But PTStart can also automatically open a window, displaying a folder's contents, when a CD is inserted into a drive. The folder can be any folder on a CD, or any folder on a user's hard drive. This feature lets you browse the CD, using the familiar Windows Explore.

Step By Step

Using PTStart is easy. The program comes with the Autorun.inf Editor, and is automatically added to any Autorun.inf command line that needs it.

When the Autorun.inf Editor starts, it first displays a window with two text boxes. In one box you can enter the name of a program that should be run, or data file that should be opened, whenever your CD is inserted. Or you can click a small button next to the text box, and a standard "File Open" dialog will appear. You can use this dialog to browse your hard disk and select a program or file.

To cause a folder's contents to be automatically displayed when a CD is inserted you must type the folder's name. That's because the Windows "File Open" dialog only lets you select files, not directories. But don't type any reference to PTStart. The Editor will add that later.

When entering a directory name, there are a couple of things to consider. First, if you specify a drive letter, be sure the drive exists on all computers where your CD will be used. If you omit a drive letter, PTStart will assume the drive is one where the user inserts the CD. Second, if you omit the leading backslash ("\") from a directory's name, PTStart will assume the directory is a subdirectory of the CD's root directory.

For example, if you enter:

D:\  The root directory of the user's D: drive will be displayed. But remember, the user's D: may not contain the same files as yours. In particular, one user's D: drive might be their CD drive, while another's might be a partition of their hard disk.

\dirname  The CD's \dirname folder is displayed. This is true regardless of the drive letter assigned to their CD drive, since no drive letter is specified.

dirname  The CD's \dirname folder is displayed. Yes, this is the same result as specifying \dirname. That's because if no initial backslash is specified, the directory is assumed to be a subdirectory of the CD's root directory.

If you'd like a Web page opened when the CD is inserted, just type the page's URL in the Editor's first text box. To cause the user's browser to open and visit my home page, for example, you'd enter:

You can also enter other types of URLs including those of FTP (File Transfer Protocol) sites. If you enter a "mailto:" URL, such as, the user's e-mail program will start an e-mail message each time the CD is inserted. The e-mail message will be automatically addressed to account specified in the mailto: URL, though the user must complete the message by entering its text and clicking Send.

The Editor's second text box allows you to specify any parameters that should be passed to the automatically run program. Most programs don't need any additional parameters, but some may need to be given a file name. Or you may need to specify some program option.

OK, you've entered the name of a program, data file, directory, or URL into the Editor's first text box. But what about the Editor's other text box? It is normally left blank. But it can be used to specify any options needed by a program to be run. This will vary from one program to another, and might include the name of a file the program should open, or perhaps switches that control the program's behavior.

Once the text box entries have been made, just click the Editor's button labeled "Save Autorun.inf ..." You'll then be asked where, on your hard disk, the new Autorun.inf file should be stored.

After the location has been selected, you'll see what the Autorun.inf file will look like. If you look closely, you'll might see the name of the PTStart.exe program. It is added automatically whenever a data file, directory name, or URL is specified.

Click Save, and the new Autorun.inf file, and any program or data file is specifies, will be copied to the location you selected a moment ago. If needed, the program PTStart.exe will be copied there too. Now all that remains is to copy all these files to the root directory of your new CD when it is created.

The Editor was recently updated to version 1.3, to fix a small bug reported by reader Danny Boyd. If you'd like to give the new Autorun.inf Editor v1.3 and PTStart a try, both are available from my Web site at:

For the programmers among us, the Autorun.inf Editor's Visual Basic source code, and PTStart's C language source code, is available there too. As always, everything is free.

Tell Your Story

Speaking of programmers, last week I invited you to write to me. I wanted to know you learned to program, and what advice you'd give to new programmers. To no-one's surprise, you were generous and thoughtful, providing dozens of good suggestions and insights.

I've begun to sort through them, and hope to be able to share them with everyone soon. In the meantime, if you have a favorite beginning programming book, Web site, or other resource, there's still time to drop me a line at

And if you see Monica or Bill this week, be sure to give them a hug. Like all new parents, they're embarking on one of life's greatest adventures, and deserve all the encouragement and help we can give.

And if you see me on the 'Net, shopping for Monica's baby shower, be sure to wave and say "Hi!"

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