Windows 10 Annoyance: Choose default apps

Martin Brinkmann
Aug 20, 2016
Updated • Nov 11, 2019
Windows, Windows 10

Windows 10 ships with a new interface to choose default applications on the system. While the classic control panel applet is still there, most users of Windows 10 are probably exposed to the options in the new Settings application first.

To get there, press Windows-I to open the Settings app on a machine running Windows 10, and go to System > Default Apps afterwards.

There you find default applications listed for major tasks such as email, photo viewing, playing music or videos, or web browsing.

You may change the default program right there. Recently though I noticed that this is no longer possible. While I can click on a program to change it, selecting another won't replace it at all.

But that is just a bug that is probably going to get sorted out in the future.

Choose default apps

choose default apps type

The main complaint I have is that the "choose default apps by file type" and "choose default apps by protocol" configuration pages make things quite difficult for the user.

When you open the "by file type" configuration page for instance, Windows 10's Settings app displays an ultra-long list of file extensions and associated programs.

You may set a program or app for any of the listed file types right there. The main issue is that there is no search or quick jump option. Want to change .html, .zip or .docx file associations on Windows 10?

Scroll down until you get there to do so. This is anything but practical and takes way too long to change file type associations.

The same is true for the "by protocol" listing, although it is a bit shorter as there fewer protocols available than file types (and many are custom protocols used by Windows apps).

The issue is the same however. There is no search, and you need to scroll to find the protocol you want to change.

default apps by protocol

If this would be a one-time operation, then you might be able to live with it. Considering that settings may reset after updates, it is unfortunately not the case usually.

Update: The workaround is not working anymore in recent versions of Windows 10. While you can still activate "set your default programs" in the Control Panel applet, doing so opens the Default apps listing in the Windows 10 Settings app.

Workaround solution

The best option you have currently is to use the "set default programs" Control Panel applet instead.

set default programs

Click on "set defaults by app" under System > Default Apps in the Settings application to go there. You may open it directly as well:

  1. Use the keyboard shortcut Windows-Pause to open the System Control Panel window.
  2. Select All Control Panel Items in the address bar.
  3. Select Default Programs.
  4. Click on Set your default programs.

Tip: You may select "associate a file type or protocol with a program" for granular control.

Windows displays a list of installed programs on the page that opens. Simply select one of the programs that you want to make the default for a protocol or file type.

You have the option to set the program as the default for all file types and protocols that it claims that it supports, or select choose defaults for this program instead to select them individually.

Changing file and protocol associations this way worked on the system that would not let me change them using the Settings application.

Tip: While there is no search as well, you may tap on the first letter of the file type or protocol to jump to the first matching entry in the listing.

Windows 10 Annoyance: Choose default apps
Article Name
Windows 10 Annoyance: Choose default apps
Windows 10 directs users to the Settings application to choose default apps for file types and protocols. The feature lacks controls in its current state.
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  1. Willo Oswald said on October 9, 2021 at 10:02 pm

    I would be happy just to have “Choose default apps by file type” as an option on the default apps screen. It has disappeared entirely after most recent update? or before?

  2. PeaceByJesus said on December 4, 2020 at 4:26 am

    Yes, you can try Settings>Default apps “Choose Default apps by file types” or “by protocol.”
    But the problem is when the program you want is not listed. But did you think Windows would make this easy when they want you to “look for an app” in the app store or a list it provides as the option in Settings>Default apps, rather than enabling you to search your hard drive as in previous versions?

    See if this labyrinth response can be adapted:

  3. CoolRaoul said on November 11, 2019 at 10:22 am

    Unfortunately, suggested workaround does not apply anymore.
    The “Set default programs” and “associate a file type or protocol with a program” in “Default Programs” section of Control Panel now redirect to the Win10 settings :-<

  4. gr71cj5 said on July 13, 2017 at 1:33 am

    Windows 10 is a FAIL! at allowing people to easily know now to associate the programs they want to use as defaults if not the preferred MS programs.

    It is like MS purposely wants you to think Only MS Programs (or the random ones who have paid to be listed) work with Win10!?

    Anyhow, since MS offers you several official methods for doing this that DO NOT actually work for all situations, below is a method that DOES actually work (since list options provided here can be different than official methods & there is actually an allowance to add any program you want).

    Open Windows Explorer and go to a file of the type you want to associate with a program > right click on the file and choose Open With > Even if you see your program in the list DO NOT choose it, choose “Choose Another App” > IF the program you want to use is listed great!, check the box at bottom of window to “always use this app”, then choose the program and click “OK”. If the program you want is not listed there is one of those damn hidden scroll bars on the right, slide it down to bottom > choose “More Apps….” > then if program you want is still not listed, scroll down yet again to bottom of list & choose “Look for another app on this PC” > NOW you can actually go to ANY program on the computer and choose it as your default!

    One would think that now that Win10 has been out for over 3 years now that vendors would have sent out updates to their programs that would register them in the first “official MS list” making it easy for their customers to realize they do not have to use “MS Preferred Programs” and that the $ investment the customer has already put into the program is still valid?!

    Happy computing ;-)

  5. SSS65 said on February 17, 2017 at 7:46 pm

    The choose default applications comes up now everytime we start up the desk top after we uninstalled and reinstalled Chrome. How do we get rid of it?

  6. Rich Valentine said on February 13, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    So it’s February 2017 and still the programs on my laptop are set back to default settings every time I shut my computer down.. anyone find a solution yet? This is cray cray!!!

    1. Sprites Jukebox said on December 28, 2017 at 12:17 am

      What worked for me was Control Panel – Hardware & Sound – Autoplay… That worked for videos, music and stuff

  7. George said on August 27, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    A good 3rd-party default apps/associations/libraries handling program is sorely missed. Microsoft blew this one, too.

  8. Ann said on August 25, 2016 at 11:44 am

    Seems to me it’s still the same as in WIN7 but in the metro interface.
    In WIN7 you also had a long list if you asked by file type, but it was more a text list so it looks like 10 times smaller.
    Now with the bloated interface this became huge.
    don’t know if you cloud search it.

    the way I always did it was though windows explorer, shift right click a file with the extension you want to change and choose open with , don’t forget to check “always open with this program”

  9. jelbo said on August 23, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    I have used a portable program called Default Programs Editor in the past. Worked well.

  10. Lange said on August 22, 2016 at 6:42 am

    I’m having problems with keeping the file associates stick to the program i installed it for (Clean Win10 install, Local account, full admin rights).
    Very often i get a message saying that there is a problem with the file associations and that they are set back to default.
    This annoys me a lot.
    The only real workaround i found is a tool called Edge Blocker (don’t have the link at hand here) which allows you to kill Edge (and turn it back on if needed). Once Edge is no more, file associations stick to the programs i installed and are not defaulted anymore…

  11. A or B, not C. said on August 21, 2016 at 9:34 am

    To avoid the Win 10 annoyance, I hv refused the free upgrade offer, kept my Win 7 in cold storage bc of “forced” Telemetry “security” updates n began experimenting with Live Linux Mint 17.3 n Live Tahrpup 6.0.5.
    Seems, it might be a good idea for me to run the Live Tahrpup with saved multi-sessions from a USB-stick, so that my settings n installed programs can remain in persistent storage on the USB-stick. After booting, the OS is loaded onto RAM n subsequently fully run from RAM, n not from the Live USB-stick or Live CD/DVD or HDD/SSD or other storage drives. On my 4GB RAM cptr, Tahrpup runs very fast, but the loading after boot can take awhile, ie about 2 minutes.

  12. AGENT SMERCH said on August 20, 2016 at 10:15 pm

    @klark kent
    sarcasm and fantasy?

    Thousands of people have this dream uploaded into their brains with wi-fi hopping through Windows 10 last night.

  13. klarkkent said on August 20, 2016 at 7:24 pm

    sarcasm and fantasy:

    I had a dream last night that I made a hologram of an arm with a hand that could pop out of a computer screen. It was more like a robot, because it could actually reach out and do work. I hacked into Microsoft, and into the top six peoples PCs that were responsible for Windows 10. The hand on the arm reached out and bitch slapped them, all at the same time, then reached around and grabbed them by the hair on the back of their heads, pulling their heads down onto their keyboards and rolled their faces around on the keys. Then with the voice of Cortana said “you idiot, now fix this Windows 10 crap right now!

    I woke up from intense pain on the upper part of my left arm. It was wifey pounding bruises, as she said, ” I saw that smile, you were dreaming of some bitch, weren’t you?” (yes I was).

    end sarcasm and fantasy.

  14. Franz the Tailor said on August 20, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    Windows 10 is a Local Client for NSA servers.

  15. Corky said on August 20, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    If it helps Martin you’re not alone in being unable to change default programs, it seem its been a bug for six months or so.
    This is a user profile specific issue, seen mainly for Local user accounts (if the user had switched from a Microsoft account earlier). Regardless, the Default Programs (Control Panel) works perfectly and can be used as a workaround.

    1. Jeff-FL said on August 20, 2016 at 8:40 pm

      Reading all these comments, (and many others on the web), i’m so freakin’ glad I avoided Win 10.

      1. khidreal said on August 21, 2016 at 10:48 am

        A or B, Not C
        maybe, but as i said, windows update installs a generic driver, but AMD has a “fully” supporting driver for computer with AMD radeon R7 running windows 10, but this driver makes the whole computer crash. this does not only happened with acer, lenovo had this and if memory is not failing, Compaq too…
        manufaturers yet don’t fully support windows 10 or it’s reversed: windows 10 does not supports the drivers/hardware. all I know is that windows 10 is lacking ease of use and accessibility on this matter.

      2. A or B, not C. said on August 21, 2016 at 9:22 am

        @ khidreal ……. The OEMs hv already stated that they won’t make Win 10 drivers for “old” OEM cptrs that came preinstalled with Win 7/8/8.1 = Planned Obsolescence. This was likely bc the OEMs want people to buy new OEM Win 10 cptrs that hv all the necessary Win 10 drivers, eg for video cards, sound cards n Wifi cards, …instead of Win 7/8.1 OEM cptr users taking the free Win 10 upgrade offer from M$. In this way, many Win 7/8.1 users who greatly desire to hv Win 10 were forced to buy new OEM Win 10 cptrs.
        …….This move by the OEMs was supposed to increase PC sales for end 2015. Instead, most affected Win 7/8.1 OEM cptr users chose to not upgrade to Win 10 = PC sales fell.
        M$ had also jumped on this bandwagon by requiring Win 10 on new SkyLake processor-cptrs.

      3. khidreal said on August 20, 2016 at 10:08 pm

        I used it for 1 year, since july-august 2015 till august 2016… it’s not worth if you use windows 8 or 8.1, there is not much of a difference and staying with W8.x will just prevent you from getting the possibility of you getting bugs and errors. I downgraded today for windows 8.1 and I don’t want W10 again, not till all the problems are fixed and companies like Lenovo, Acer etc start fully supporting W10… in case of acer, a year has passed, but I still had to use a generic AMD driver because the one they made for windows 10 tends to crash the whole computer… I suggest you do the same, wait till everything is fixed and W10 is more or less stable in general…

    2. khidreal said on August 20, 2016 at 5:53 pm

      you talking about the tipical problem of – on metro options – select for example a browser and windows 10 keeps Edge as default? if it’s dat, I don’t think it has something to do with “users that switched from a MS acc to a local acc”. I always used Local acc, and I had that problem a lot.

  16. jasray said on August 20, 2016 at 4:58 pm

    Hmmm . . . I wonder what the users are doing wrong to have so many annoying problems with Windows 10. I haven’t had any issues. Default program associations aren’t a new thing; they occurred way back with Windows XP. Easy fix. Like it’s really hard to scroll through a list of file extensions and click “change program.”

    The 1% with Windows 10 problems. Maybe try a clean install. That may be a bit difficult for some because of Einstein’s “Law of Laziness,” but it may fix any issues being experienced.

    There isn’t a perfect OS, but those complaining or having problems may want to purchase a Mac and try OSX. Almost flawless execution. Run Parallels if needed.

    Or go back to Windows 7. Stop whining. If the only social cause a person has in life is to complain about one OS with the intent of changing what is probably already on the “things to do” list of developers, that person is to be pitied.

    Give us some good news about Windows 10. Show us some of the new, interesting features of Windows 10 and how to use them. There are quite a few, actually, but they are tucked away.

    Oh, I did have one problem with Windows 10 on one machine–icon cache. I had to go in and change the cache size from the default of 2000 to 8192–delete the Dword value and create a string value. Worked great. But that was really my issue–not a Windows 10 issue–because I keep a lot of icons on the desktop which is, in truth, sort of stupid.

    1. Felix Spammasher said on December 9, 2016 at 12:35 pm

      “Like it’s really hard to scroll through a list of file extensions and click “change program.”

      What a massive dick. PC’s are supposed to make our life easier not harder. Thank god a nob like you is not in charge of the user experience, you’d have us doing pushups between clicks

    2. khidreal said on August 20, 2016 at 5:50 pm

      well, to be honest I think that if a windows version suits you or not it depends on what you do, but in majority it depends on your computer. as I already said, I had really big issues with W10, so much that I got tired of them and downgraded to the good “old” windows 8.1, the windows that came with my PC when I bought it. now I remember why I love windows 8.1 interface and hate windows 10 one: apps fullscreen: once you get used, you don’t want anything else! the email client on W8.1 is 10x better than the W10 one: it separates newsletters and company emais from your personal emails; but in majority I don’t have the problems I was having with W10…

      as I said, it depends on the computer’s hardware and what you do and what you want. I love simplicity, and W8.1 interface is very simple: it hides the titles and the max/min/close buttons making the OS really clear and simple… while windows 10 is more bloated…

      but I have to agree with you on this one: it is simple and it’s a known “fix” on the associations problems. but I also have to disagree with you: clean installs don’t solve a thing if the problem is from the OS itself (it lacks support for some hardware and drivers. for example, try having an Intel HD 4400 + driver version 10 or 11, and your computer won’t shutdown), other problems is the drivers or hardware itself not supporting the OS… for example, Acer, my manufacturer, didn’t even had trouble to publish an AMD driver for windows 10, so they basically make you use the generic one…

  17. Jeffrey said on August 20, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    An issue I’ve had with Windows 10 Default Programs is that my Adobe Photoshop CC, Illustrator, and several other Adobe programs are not listed at all, anywhere. It seems to me that they may not be properly “registered”, but I am at a loss as to how to resolve it and have them displayed in Default Programs.

    1. lol said on August 20, 2016 at 4:37 pm

      In my case some programs are listed twice.
      default apps are reset and sometimes it keeps asking to open with what app.
      still a lot of bugs after one year lol

  18. Khidreal said on August 20, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    I hate that, actually Windows 10 is giving me a lot of problems:
    – my AMD driver was working fine on windows 7 and 8.1, but on windows 10 it makes my computer crash;
    – I have the shutdown problem: my PC always stays with the leds on;
    – HDD always at 100% while copying things, making starting a program or even a game a pain in the a**;
    – seems an ufinished OS: still feels it to me. 2 “control panels basically”… bugs, I feel it needs lots of improvements;
    – the start menu, meh, I prefer the one on windows 8.1. full screen start menu is much easier. and if you just didn’t realised yet, windows 10 start menu is like the one on windows 8.1, it’s just missing a bit of the screen…

    so, because of this, I am moving again to W8.1. never gave me problems with anything! today I will wipe my HDD (windows 10 does not let’s you downgrade).

  19. Anonymous said on August 20, 2016 at 9:32 am

    “Windows 10 annoyance”, each day a new… that reminds me Kafka stories :)

    1. Lurking About said on August 20, 2016 at 6:02 pm

      Kafka was an optimist

  20. RichardT said on August 20, 2016 at 8:32 am

    Interesting ploy – make customisation annoyingly difficult so they then can claim that nobody is using it and thus it can be removed.

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