May 4, 2011

Windows Media Player and “In Use” External USB Hard Drives

I have a lovely new 1TB external hard drive and moved all my music onto it a short while ago.  Now even though I have iPods and iPhones, for playing that music from my laptop, ITunes on Windows is pretty poor so I’ve tended to use Media Player and, more recently, Zune for that task.

Now, as you would expect I wanted my music into these programs automatically I included the music folder in my library as shown:


Now given I’m on a laptop and I usually want to leave work at the end of the day I’ll Safely Remove the drive from my laptop before packing up, but now when I do I get either the infamous “Windows can't stop your 'Generic Volume' device because it is in use” message or the “Problem Ejecting USB Mass Storage Device” message as shown:


But I closed Media Player (and everything else) so it can’t be locking files can it?

Now, as it happens, in the past I’ve seen Windows Search Indexing locking external drives, but I’d already made sure that the drive isn’t indexed by turning off the flag in the properties window:


and if I look at the Indexing Options in Control Panel I see this:


You can see that the G: drive (the external) isn’t indexed, yet if you look at the location summary in the bottom pane there’s a folder called Music there.  What gives?

So I expand the G: drive settings and what do I see? That the folder is, in fact, indexed by Windows Search and it is very likely locking the drive.  What the…?! Why isn’t the G:\ drive showing with a greyed checkbox to indicate that one or more child folders are included.  Thanks for the great UI there, Microsoft.


So if I just clear it now, then I’ll be able to safely remove the drive, but this is what happens in Media Player’s settings:


Which of means that new items I add to my Music folder won’t automatically appear.  That’s not what I want.  In fact it sucks.

Maybe I should just use the Zune player instead? Unfortunately, by default, Zune relies on the Windows Media Player library settings, so to break the dependency I have to go into Zune settings and unlink the Zune folders from the windows libraries.


Now I can add the Music folder from the external USB drive and Zune will automatically index the folder and pick up changes to the contents, just as I wanted.  And it does it without keeping the drive locked when I exit the program.


So now when I want to go home, I can just close Zune and then safely remove the drive as I would expect.



Phew! Talk about a major pain in the butt! How is a normal, non technical person ever going to figure this out for themselves.  Maybe I should’ve just stuck with iTunes – at least it doesn’t lock your external drives on you.


  1. Couldn't agree more. One of the many reasons I feel MS is so clued out as to how people use their computers, and why Apple is surging. Key statements you've made:

    1) "Problem Ejecting USB Mass Storage Device" - Why doesn't MS realize people want to do this and make it "just work", like Apple does? The fact that this provides no HELPFUL feedback to the user is just frustrating. The fact that it's been a persistent problem in Windows since USB was introduced is simply mind-boggling.
    2) "Thanks for the great UI there, Microsoft" - Indeed. Although if this dialog is based on a standard library, I would expect the UI to work properly here.
    3) "That’s not what I want. In fact it sucks." - That just about sums up my MS experience of late, and I think it's the experience many people would share if they bothered. Windows is king of giving you ... not what you wanted.
    4) How is a normal, non technical person ever going to figure this out - EXACTLY the problem. Well said.
    5) Maybe I should’ve just stuck with iTunes - Sums up the thought process you go through when you experience all of the above.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not an Apple fanboy. I only started using a Mac about 18 months ago, and the first 12 were off and on hating the Mac. But after a while you start to realize that things "just work", after which the frustrations experienced in Windows are 10-fold more annoying.

  2. Do you guys find iTunes to be that much better? Though this issue is frustrating, I feel like I have equally frustrating experiences in iTunes. I just today downloaded Media Monkey and am hoping that will be the answer and I won't have to worry about WMP or iTunes.

  3. Ryan,

    I came to this page originally because of the inability to eject a USB drive in Windows, but I've a fair share of things to say on iTunes vs. WMP vs. other media players as well.

    In a nutshell, I believe that if you want to manage your own files - for whatever reason - iTunes will frustrate you. iTunes doesn't monitor folders at all, so manual folder management is out of the question.

    WMP is pretty good once you figure out how to delete its database which will inevitably get corrupted. The only other one I've really paid attention to is Songbird, and in my opinion they've yet to make a useable product.

    I used to hate iTunes as well - but that was when I tried to manage my media files and their folder structure through Explorer (or Finder on the Mac). But eventually, I let go of this habit. I now allow iTunes to manage my files, and I've never had fewer problems.