Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Polishing the CD-ROM Project

Take a Flash-generated Projector to the next level through custom icon placement and an autorun script.

While the web has largely placed the market for interactive CD-ROMs on the backburner, the need for self-contained projects continues on a smaller scale. They can be found in marketing materials, application demos, sales presentations and the old stand-by, self-promotional pieces.

Just a few years ago, Macromedia Director (and to a lesser extent Authorware) was the de facto means of producing CD-ROMs. While this powerful application still boasts an impressive arsenal of advanced authoring tools, Flash has largely become the new standard. Its highly developed scripting features and ability to work happily with other technologies provide a complete development environment for non-web presentation.

In this article, we’ll discuss polishing the final Projector file to a high shine, and prepping your CD-ROM for a professional burn. The techniques used in this article apply to PC only.

Creating an Icon File

For Windows, all icons are saved with the ICO extension. This format serves as a container for different sizes and color depths of the icon.

Because of the unique properties of the ICO format, standard image editing programs like Photoshop can neither open, edit nor save icon files. However, there are several inexpensive solutions built to manage these elusive creatures.

For this project, the ICO you build can be used for both the CD and the program icon. Most Windows icons work best with the following sizes:

  • 48×48 pixels, 32-bit color
  • 32×32 pixels, 32-bit color
  • 16×16 pixels, 32-bit color
  • 32×32 pixels, 16 colors
  • 16×16 pixels, 16 colors

32-bit color is millions of colors, standard on most operating systems. The 16 colors are the generic windows default colors. This is the palette that all developers hate, but unfortunately its entrenched in the Windows environment. Unless the project is specifically for Windows XP or Mac OSX, avoid using any type of transparency, except standard 1-bit matting (ala GIFs).

Creating good looking icons that work across all platforms is tedious. Every Windows platform handles them differently with enough quirks, limitations and glitches for countless all-night hair-pulling sessions.

Change the Projector Icon

If you’ve ever developed a self-contained Projector file, you’ve no doubt been frustrated by the generic icon Macromedia assigns the executables. While Macromedia provides no means to replace it on the Windows platform, there is a simple, free way to quickly swap in any icon of your choice.

First, you’ll need a utility called Resource Hacker, which is a small (about 550kb) and free program that is used to open EXE files and alter the contents. Resource Hacker has many uses, and can really screw up an EXE in inexperienced hands, but swapping the icon is lightweight work that doesn’t affect other functionality. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Open Resource Hacker and go to File > Open. Browse for the EXE file you wish to alter.
  2. Open the file. You’ll see a list of folders on the left. Ignore these.
  3. In the top menu, click Special > Replace Icon …
  4. Click the button “Open File With New Icon” and browse for your new ICO file.
  5. After opening the new icon, click “Replace.” This will close that dialog window.
  6. On the main screen, click File > Save As … and save your new EXE wherever.
  7. Gape in stunned silence at the beauty of your new icon.

There are editors you can buy that accomplish this same task, but from my experience, they are less than intuitive with very mixed results. Resource Hacker works perfectly every time, and the price is right.

Create the Autorun File

The autorun file is a small script that Windows reads to launch a specific EXE file from the CD-ROM. It also dictates the ICO file that displays in My Computer, the desktop and wherever else the CD appears.

Creation is simple. Open a text editor like Notepad, create a new file and name it “autorun.inf” Inside, renaming the files appropriately, type the following:


The autorun script must sit in the root directory of the CD. Use the same ICO file as the one you replaced in the EXE. Keep in mind you can also place the ICO or EXE in a directory on the disc, like:


Prepping the Disc

After giving your EXE a new icon and setting up the autorun script, there are a few more things to consider when prepping a CD for production.

  1. Keep the disc clean. Remove any unnecessary files.
  2. If there are lots of support files, place them in directories to keep the root directory as clean as possible. Consider setting these directories to “hidden” so most users won’t see them.
  3. Give your executable a meaningful title. (For example, NOT “NewIdea_proj342_final2-3.exe”) For ultimate compatibility, keep the name less than eight characters.
  4. Burn and test.
  5. Test again.
  6. And again.

That’s it. With these small tools, your CD-ROM piece will boast a much more professional appearance. Even a 16 pixel icon can be used to reinforce brand identity, and the extra visual kick will set your project apart when presented to clients, customers and peers.