No, you should not have to deal with this every time. This is what happens when trying to make something “idiot-proof” and automatic ends up making it idiotic.
Vista is a nightmare, HP especially, but if you have Autorun disabled—nice find!–that’s not the problem. Instead of completely disabling portable device enumerator, you might try making it manual in case you want to plug in a storage drive or something. Experiment–you could always disable it again.
WMP is is the problem.
With your Clip+ on and disconnected, go to Settings/System Settings/USB Mode and change it to MSC. That should make it behave like a basic thumb drive rather than a device controlled by Windows Media Player. MSC should stop the auto-synching.
If you want playlists and such, you can make them through Winamp and probably even through WMP, but I just won’t touch that program, because it does the kinds of things you describe.
But you should also put a short leash on Windows Media Player. Have you tried Run…msconfig and those Startup and Services tabs? I don’t see WMP in my Startup.
I’m on my Windows 7 computer now, where WMP makes it almost impossible to find its options. They keep moving them around; in this version it’s under the Sync tab, but it may be different in your Vista version. You should try going to support.microsoft.com, which should detect your Vista operating system and give you the right info.
On this Windows 7 version, the device has to be connected and you have to go to the Sync tab–quick! stop the sync!–and then you have to set it not to sync. Awful. Hope yours is different.
Here’s the Microsoft Q&A I found.
Somewhere in your WMP there should be a setting not to auto-sync music. You may have to do it with each device–I don’t know. But try the MSC fix first.