Windows 8: setting default programs

Martin Brinkmann
Dec 23, 2012
Windows, Windows tips

If you do not pay attention during app and software installations on Windows 8, you may end up with the wrong program being the default application that files open with. This is especially troublesome on Windows 8 as you may end up with a Windows Store app being the default program for file types which would mean that open those files on the system would always result in the opening of a full screen app on the system.

Even more problematic than that is when a file type is suddenly assigned to a program that can't really process it at all. Windows 8 comes with options to set associations for programs and file types. Good news is, you do not have to hack Registry entries anymore or click through a large folder hierarchy to do that.

There are two core options to change file associations in Windows 8, and both are controlled via the Default Programs control panel applet. To open it press the Windows key, enter default and click on Default Programs in the results.

Here you see the following two options:

  • Set your default programs - Make a program the default for all files types and protocols it can open
  • Associate a file type or protocol with a program - Make a file type or protocol (such as .mp3 or http://) always open in a specific program.

The first option is ideal if you have a favorite program that you want all supported file types to open in. If you are using VLC Media Player for instance, you may want it to play all media files automatically, and not Windows Media Player, another program or store app.

Set your default programs

set default programs

A list of programs is displayed in a new window when you select the first option. When you select a program here, you get two options that you can configure:

  • Set this program as default - Use the selected program to open all file types and protocols it can open by default
  • Choose defaults for this program - Choose which file types and protocols the selected program opens by default.

The first option again associates all file types a program supports with it. Sometimes, this is not desired. Maybe you want a program to only open some file types. For VLC, you may want it to open all video file types, but not audio file types which it supports as well as you have an audio player for that. The second option needs to be selected in this case to only associate specific file types with the program. Note that you can also uncheck file associations here that you do not want the selected program to open when you double-click them.

set program associations

Associate a file type or protocol with a program

This option displays all known file extensions in a table. Here you see the extensions, a description, and the program the file type is associated with.

set associations To change a file association double-click on it. This triggers Windows' "how do you want to open this type of file" dialog. Here you may see one or multiple programs that can open the file type. A click on more options displays even more programs and an option to look for a suitable app in Windows Store or on the local system.

Please note that the file association will be changed when you select a different program from the list. You can use the menu to fine tune file type associations on Windows 8.


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  1. jsenkler said on August 22, 2013 at 11:52 am

    In Windows 8, I am having problems changing the default e-mail program to Mozilla Thunderbird. As administrator I click on ‘Set program access and computer defaults’ and then click the down arrows associated with the Custom option. I then select Mozilla Thunderbird as the default e-mail program and click on Ok. When I go back to look ‘Use my current e-mail program’ is selected.

    Is there a way to fix this?

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on August 22, 2013 at 12:10 pm

      Have you tried checking in Thunderbird itself? Tools > Options > Advanced > General

  2. paul said on February 12, 2013 at 7:06 am

    I am trying to reset inyternet explorer as my default browser not having any luck on the start it says app removed?

  3. lyonly r said on December 25, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    Is anyone else experiencing where the power icon is not being displayed in the Windows 8 operating system (OS). It is grayed and is defaulted to off (the user is unable to change)?

  4. Solidstate said on December 24, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    No, actually it doesn’t, smartass. Applications not installed from the Windows store can set themselves up as a default application as well. RTFA.

  5. Morely the IT Guy said on December 24, 2012 at 5:57 am

    Never install files from the Windows Store. Problem solved.

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