When you plug in a flash drive or external hard drive, Windows brings up the AutoPlay menu, which offers all sorts of options. Deborah Armstrong asked how to make Windows simply open the drive so she can get to the files.

When I plug in a flash drive, all I want is access to files inside. But instead of giving me access, Windows used to pop the AutoPlay menu, forcing me to scroll down and select Open folder to view files.

Then I learned the trick. Or perhaps I should say tricks. The directions differ slightly between Windows 7 and 8.

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Windows 7

To set the changes, insert a flash drive or external hard drive. When the AutoPlay menu comes up (hopefully for the last time), click View more AutoPlay options in Control Panel at the bottom of the menu. (You can also click Start,  type autoplay, and select the Control Panel program.)

This brings up Control Panel's AutoPlay dialog box. In the Software and games pull-down menu, select Open folder to view files using Windows Explorer. Then select that same option for Pictures, Video files, and Audio files.

After you click Save, pretty much every external drive will come up in Explorer.

Windows 8 and 8.1

Use the Search charm to find and select autoplay. (If you're still using Windows 8.0, after you've done the search, you'll have to click Settings to find AutoPlay.)

This brings up Control Panel's AutoPlay dialog box. In the Removable drive pull-down menu, select Open folders to view files (File Explorer).

By default, Windows 8 doesn't care what's on the external drive. But in the options below Removable drive, you can make exceptions for certain types of content.