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Automation Tools and Some Neat Ways to Create Launch Menus

This article explores several solutions for automatically launching sequences of actions, activities and commands without necessitating users to take any action on their part. Furthermore, this article reviews several software programs for creating launching menus in various styles which can be activated from your local PC or your USB drive, or burnt onto a CD.
1. AutoRun.inf: use this file to create a CD featuring a nice looking menu through which applications can be launched, movies watched and other actions automatically performed
2. Batch Files: easily create batch files in order to launch several software programs from a single file
3. Macro Recorder: record actions currently taking place and automatically launch the same sequence at a later time of your choosing
4. Autoit: a potent script language which is great for launching automatic actions and for solving an extensive variety of problems and difficulties regarding such sequences
AutoRun
Every time a CD is inserted into a driver Windows will automatically look for an autorun.inf file in the CD's root directory. If such a file exists, Windows will then execute the commands written within it.
Autorun. Inf is a simple text file which instructs the operating system which file to execute, which icon to display and which menu to launch every time a CD, DVD or USB is inserted into the drive. All you have to do is place your file in the burnt CD's, or in the USB's root directory and the operating system (Windows) will take it from there, acting upon the commands within the file.
Putting aside automatically launching applications, you can also create a nice looking menu through which users can select the wanted content stored on the drive, such as software programs, music files, movies, etc. This menu will be very much similar to the menu which pops up every time a Windows installation CD is inserted into the drive.
Basic Use
As is visible in the following screenshot, all it takes is opening your Notepad and typing in three short lines of code: Filename.exe –stands for the file name to be launched and itbananas. icon is the icon, kept in My Computer folder, that will be used to represent the CD that's been inserted into the drive. By default the system will be looking for files kept in the CD's root directory. Yet, it can be instructed to look in subdirectories by indicating the specific path: open = foldername/filename.exe. Furthermore, conditions, menus and more complex actions can be set and defined by using different commands.
Creating and Editing an AutoRun.inf File Featuring an Independent Menu
AutoRun Maker
This easy to use software program will enable you to easily and intuitively create your very own AutoRun file without having to manually type in the appropriate commands. Users can determine which applications will be automatically launched and which icon and label should appear when the CD is inserted into the drive. Any other function existing in the original AutoRun file can also be used – see: demonstration video.
AutoRun Express
This software program (compatible with Windows 32 bit and 64 bit versions) enables you to create an AutoRun file for CD/DVD using a simple and intuitive installation wizard. You can add files (applications, documents, video files, audio files, website links, etc.) and determine which actions will take effect upon launching your AutoRun file. You can also create a menu from which certain actions can be selected, yet this feature is limited (in the free version) solely to your local PC. Finally, you can burn your work onto a CD or run a test without burning it.
Menu CD
Users can create a launch menu for different purposes through which the content stored on the CD can be selected and through which chosen files can be launched.
DVD Style
Using AutoRun-Quick Divx Starter users can create a launch menu which activates movie clips stored on the CD or drive much like a DVD with a menu. All you need to do is place the video file, the player (bsplayer) and the software program (AutoRun.exe) in the CD's root directory, make sure everything works as it should and burn it. You can also copy the matching poster and subtitle files and the software program will automatically use them.
Portable Apps Style for Launching Software Programs
Users can create a launch menu that includes portable applications. Unlike many tools which offer a collection of portable software programs and utilities inseparably packed in a single package, you can use tools such as CodySafe, Portable Start Menu and their likes which enable users to manually choose the collection of portable software programs they'd like to add and manually or automatically define the manner in which they'll be launched (minimized, maximized) each time the CD is inserted into the drive. You can also easily import additional software programs and files into the list by dragging them into the menu or by running an automatic scan. Finally, you can launch the menu from your local disk, your USB drive or burn it onto a CD.
Macro Recorder
If your daily work on your PC includes frequently used sequences of clicks and actions you can record these sequences for later use.
Macro Maker
These software programs enable users to record actions performed using their PCs. Such actions may include: launching applications, copying files, sending emails or any other related activities. When these sequences will later be activated the recorded actions will be automatically executed on schedule without requiring users to be at their computers – download. Also see: Macro Recorder, Windows Macro Recorder.
iMacros – a Firefox plugin which enables the recording of actions and activities and their automatic execution.
Word Macro Commands: Word 2003 -> Tools -> Macro -> Record New Macro
Word 2007 -> Developer -> Record Macro
AutoIt
AutoIt is a software program which consists of quite a few capabilities. However, it's designed for users with some programming background. Having said that we should also mention that using AutoIt is quite intuitive so even users who lack said programming background yet are equipped with patience and don't mind putting in some time will be able to learn their way around it. All you have to do is use the Help file for whichever task you'd like done or simply Google it and find someone who's already done it and was gracious enough to share it with other users. Unlike other programming languages or other scripts used in other software programs, AutoIt is mainly used for automatically performing tasks and solving problems related to automated sequences.
For example, using AutoIt you can record a sequence of system commands and save it as an EXE file. You can also install a software program, configure it, click the Next buttons and save the entire process as a script file for later automated reuse.
Written by Moshe Harel
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/itbananas

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