Windows 7 : Software Installation - What You Need to Know

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The more you understand about software installation, the better prepared you’ll be to resolve problems you may encounter. Generally, the installation process starts when you trigger the AutoPlay or Autorun process. AutoPlay or Autorun in turn starts the software application’s Setup program. Setup is a program responsible for managing the installation process. Part of the installation process involves validating your credentials and checking the software’s compatibility with Windows 7.

1. AutoPlay

AutoPlay options determine how Windows 7 handles files on CDs, DVDs, and portable devices. You can configure separate AutoPlay options for each type of CD, DVD, and media your computer can handle.

With software and games, you have the following AutoPlay options (see Figure 1):

Install or run program

Uses the program’s Autorun file to start installing or running the program automatically.

Open folder to view files using Windows Explorer

Opens Windows Explorer so that you can browse the CD or DVD.

Figure 1. Selecting the Autorun or Setup option to install or run a program

You can configure AutoPlay options by completing the following steps:

  1. Click Start→Default Programs.

  2. On the Default Programs page in the Control Panel, click Change AutoPlay settings.

  3. As shown in Figure 4-2, use the lists under Media to set the default AutoPlay option to use for each type of media. The various AutoPlay options require Windows to determine the type of disc and media you’ve inserted. This can sometimes slow down the disc recognition process. “Ask me every time” is a safe choice, as it requires you to decide before any action is taken.

  4. If you don’t want to use AutoPlay, clear the “Use AutoPlay for all media and devices” checkbox. Keep in mind that this will disable AutoPlay for both media and devices.

  5. Click Save to save your settings.


Dislike AutoPlay for media but like AutoPlay for devices? Instead of disabling AutoPlay completely, set the default value for all media as “Take no action.” This will allow you to still use AutoPlay with devices.

2. Autorun

When AutoPlay is enabled, Windows 7 checks for a file named Autorun.inf or a similar file, such as StartCD.ini, when you insert a CD or DVD into a CD or DVD drive. For software applications and games, this file identifies the Setup program and related installation parameters that should be used to install the software or game.

Figure 2. Setting AutoPlay defaults

Generally, Autorun.inf, StartCD.ini, and similar files are all text-based. This means you can view their contents in any standard text editor, such as WordPad or Notepad. Most Autorun.inf files are similar to the following example:

DisplayName=Microsoft Encarta 2007

When AutoPlay triggers this Autorun.inf file, Windows 7 opens a file named Setup.exe when the CD or DVD is inserted into the CD or DVD drive. Because Setup.exe is a program, Windows 7 runs this program. The Autorun.inf file also specifies an icon to use, and the program’s display name. As long as AutoPlay is enabled, you can retrigger the default action by ejecting and then reinserting the installation media. You can also double-click on the drive’s icon in Windows Explorer, but this will bypass the “Ask me every time” and go direct to an Autorun or AutoPlay action.

Although you’ll usually find that an Autorun.inf file opens and then runs a Setup program, this isn’t always the case. When AutoPlay triggers this Autorun.inf file, Windows 7 opens a file named Default.htm in Internet Explorer:

OPEN=Autorun\ShelExec default.htm
StartCD.ini and similar files expand on the basic options provided in Autorun.inf files. For example, StartCD.ini defines a window to display along with the graphics, text, and options for that window. The caption, display text, command to run, the run action and the error text for each option are listed under an [Option] entry, such as:
Caption=&TS Setup
DataText1=Install Windows TS.
DataText2=Install the Windows TS. The Windows TS contains a set of tools
to help you manage terminal services.
DataText3=Once the installation is complete, click Start, click All Programs,
click Windows TS, click Documentation and open the Windows TS User's Guide.
CmdParameters=/i "%RootDir%\wts.msi"
ErrorSoln=Check to make sure that this file is accessible. If it is not accessible,
try opening the file from its original location.

3. Application Setup

With Windows 7, only administrators can install software. This means you must either install software using an account with administrator privileges, or provide administrator permissions when prompted. Administrator privileges are required to change, repair, and uninstall software as well.

Most software applications have a setup program that uses Windows Installer, InstallShield, or Wise Install. The job of the installer program is to track the installation process and make sure that the installation completes successfully. If the installation fails, the installer is also responsible for restoring your computer to its original state by reversing all the changes the Setup program has made. Although this works great in theory, you may still encounter problems, particularly when installing older programs. Older programs won’t have and won’t be able to use the features of the latest versions of installer programs, and as a result, they sometimes are unable to uninstall a program completely.

Because a partially uninstalled program can spell disaster for your computer, you should ensure your computer is configured to use System Restore. Though the installers for most current programs automatically trigger a restore point creation before making any changes to your computer, the installers for older programs may not. You can manually create a restore point. This way, if you run into problems, you’ll have an effective recovery strategy.

Before installing any software or game, you should do the following:

  • Check whether it is compatible with Windows 7. You can determine compatibility in several ways. You can check the software packaging, which should specify whether the program is compatible or provide a Microsoft Windows 7 logo. Alternatively, you can check the software developer’s website for a list of compatible operating systems.

  • Check the software developer’s website for updates or patches for the program. If available, download the updates or patches prior to installing the software and then install them immediately after completing the software installation. Some software programs, such as Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Office, have automated update processes that you can use to check for updates after installing the software. In this case, after installation, run the software and then use the built-in update feature to check for updates or patches.

To avoid known compatibility issues with legacy applications, Windows 7 includes an automated detection feature known as the Program Compatibility Assistant. If the Program Compatibility Assistant detects a known compatibility issue when you install or run a legacy application, it notifies you about the problem and provides possible solutions for resolving the problem automatically. You can then allow the Program Compatibility Assistant to reconfigure the application for you. Although the Program Compatibility Assistant is helpful, it can’t detect or avoid all compatibility issues.

You should not use the Program Compatibility Assistant or the Program Compatibility Wizard to install older virus detection, backup, or system programs. These programs may attempt to modify your computer’s filesystem in a way that is incompatible with Windows 7, and this could prevent Windows 7 from starting.

Diagnosing a problem you are having as a compatibility issue isn’t always easy. For deeper compatibility issues, you may need to contact the software developer’s technical support staff. Some issues even support staff may not be able to resolve without time to study the problem. Consider the following:

  • When a computer manufacturer shipped computers with Windows XP, many recently purchased computers experienced infrequent “red screen” crashes. In contrast to blue screen crashes, which typically are related to operating system or hardware components, software drivers can cause a red screen crash. This problem was eventually pinpointed to an incompatibility between the firmware BIOS the computer was using and the software driver for certain graphics cards with a new 3D graphics feature. To resolve the problem, the computer’s firmware BIOS and graphics card driver both needed to be updated.

  • When a software manufacturer shipped a new version of its application suite, many recently purchased computers experienced problems starting and running the applications. After an automated update process had run, users were told their product licenses were invalid. This problem eventually was pinpointed to an incompatibility between the license-validation feature used by the application and a hard disk mirroring configuration being used by some customers. To resolve the problem, the software developers had to create an application patch that let the license-validation feature work with hard disks that were mirrored.

In both examples, the compatibility issues were the direct result of technological innovation. In the first example, graphics cards implementing new 3D graphics features caused an unforeseen incompatibility with the computer’s firmware. In the second example, computers increasingly began shipping with mirrored hard disks, a feature that was previously used primarily on servers, and the license-validation feature was unable to recognize and validate the software applications across the mirrored disks.

4. Windows and 64-bit Programs

The future of computing is 64-bit, and we’re in the midst of the changeover. To use 64-bit programs, you must install a 64-bit version of Windows.


Even if you don’t foresee a need to run 64-bit applications, you may need the use the 64-bit version of Windows 7 to access all of the RAM in your computer. The 32-bit operating systems are, in theory, limited to 4 GB of RAM. In practice, this is generally closer to 3 GB, because some of the address space is reserved for other purposes.

A 64-bit operating system lets you go far beyond 4 GB, with its theoretical maximum memory measured in billions of gigabytes (but with significant practical limits, such as the number of memory slots in your computer and the maximum size of available memory modules).

For this reason, you’ll find that computers sold with 4 GB or more of RAM invariably come with a 64-bit Windows operating system.

When you are working with a 64-bit operating system, keep the following in mind:

  • Any 16-bit Windows applications will not install.

  • The 64-bit programs will be installed by default in subfolders of the Program Files folder.

  • The 32-bit programs will be installed by default in subfolders of the Program Files (x86) folder.

  • Registry keys for 32-bit programs will be found in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node rather than HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE.

Some programs may have both a 32-bit version and a 64-bit version. In most cases, you’ll get better performance with the native 64-bit version of a program. If you encounter compatibility issues, you can run the 32-bit x86 version of the program instead. If you are running a program and don’t know whether it is 32-bit or 64-bit, press Ctrl-Alt-Delete to start Task Manager. On the Processes tab, 32-bit processes are identified with “*32” after the process name.

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  •  Windows 7: Optimizing Performance (part 3) - Using ReadyBoost to Enhance Performance
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  •  Personalizing Windows 7 (part 6) - Configuring Your Monitors
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