Microsoft is making it harder to change Default Apps in Windows 11

Martin Brinkmann
Sep 2, 2021
Windows 11 News

Windows users who want to change the default applications in Microsoft's Windows 11 operating system have a harder time doing so as Microsoft change the process of setting defaults.

On Windows 10, when you want to change default apps, you visit Settings > Apps > Default Apps. One of the options on the screen that opens is to change the defaults for common applications such as the web browser, photo viewer, video player, or music player. Select the web browser, pick another installed browser, and you are done.

Microsoft did make the process less user friendly than in previous versions of Windows, as you can't pick a program from the system anymore when selecting defaults that is not displayed in the initial listing.

windows 10 set default apps

On Windows 11, things have gotten worse again. When you open Settings > Apps > Default Apps, you will notice that the list of popular application types is gone. You may set defaults based on a file type or link or by application.

Select a program, e.g. Brave Browser, and you get a list of all file types and link types it has registered itself to open. Each type is listed separately and to make matters worse, there is no "set for all" option on the page.

windows 11 set default apps

To make a program the default for all its registered file types and links, you'd have to click on each of the types and pick the desired application from the listing. While you may skip some file types and links, such as SVG for the web browser, you would end up with multiple web browsers being set as the default for certain file types.

For a web browser, this could mean having to repeat the process a significant number of times before the defaults are all changed. If things do get reset, which happened frequently for some users on Windows 10, then you'd have to repeat the process again.

If you want to change the defaults for multiple programs, e.g. an email client, a web browser, a photo viewer, media player, and music player, you'd spend a long time configuring the file types. Media players alone support dozens of different file formats and protocols, and you will spend quite some time changing the defaults on Windows 11.

A quick web browser installation test on a Windows 11 test system confirmed that most users will run into issues with default apps. Most Chromium-based browsers open the Default Apps section of the settings app when users accept the "make us the default" prompt. Firefox was able to set a handful of defaults, most notably HTTP, HTTPS, .HTM and .HTML, but did not do so for others such as .SHTML, .PDF or image formats (which it theoretically can be the default app for).

windows 11 default apps

If you wanted some of these to open in the program as well, you'd still have to go through the ordeal of changing them one after the other.

Why did Microsoft remove the Default Apps option in Windows 11?

A Microsoft spokesperson told The Verge that the new controls would give users control "at a more granular level" by "eliminating app categories and elevating all apps to the forefront of the defaults experience".

windows 10 set defaults by app

The options that have been "elevated to the forefront" are not entirely new. Windows 10 users may set defaults by applications similarly to how defaults are set on Windows 11. The only difference between the two versions of Windows is that Windows 10's functionality is two levels deep in the settings while Windows 11's is on the start screen.

Microsoft failed to mention why it removed the option to set an app as the default for all supported file types and links, just like before. Even a "select all" option when configuring defaults for an app would be sufficient to resolve the issue.

It is clear that making an app the default for all supported file types is more complicated and time consuming than before, if things remain as they are in Windows 11.

Now You: how do you change default apps on Windows?

Microsoft is making it harder to change Default Apps in Windows 11
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Microsoft is making it harder to change Default Apps in Windows 11
Windows 11 is making it difficult to change default programs such as web browsers, media players, music players and more due to removed functionality.
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  1. Michael said on February 10, 2022 at 3:11 am

    This is one of the worst changes Microsoft ever did to Windows. Not only did they remove the handy feature from their settings, but also removed the right-click, properties, where we could change the standard app for a certain file type.
    The new way does NOT work (e.g. jpg and png are NOT found in the list). The REAL reason is that Microsoft forces all users to use THEIR programs, even if they don’t want to. This is a real no-go and should be reverted!!
    Another cause for switching from Microsoft. They just do what they want whenever they want.

  2. Soren said on November 7, 2021 at 8:38 pm


  3. ghesri said on November 4, 2021 at 10:01 pm

    Uninstalling Groove Music gave back most of the file types Win11 had hijacked from VLC.

  4. dimar said on October 15, 2021 at 11:44 am

    I used default apps to set VLC and Chrome as default apps. I never understood why Mac OS didn’t have this setting. Everything about Windows 11 has been a disappointment. Luckily Winaero and StartAllBack came to the rescue. Hopefully there’s an utility to bring the default apps back.

  5. matthiew said on September 6, 2021 at 4:13 am

    Looks like they’re going back to the Windows 7 way of setting default apps. Hopefully that means no more “An app default was reset”.

  6. John said on September 5, 2021 at 9:53 pm

    Playing devil’s advocate here, users may find that they often install something and sets it as the default “whatever” on Windows 10, only to later find it has gobbled up a bunch of file associate defaults that they want to continue opening in the software they originally set to open it by default.

    For example, a web browser might take over opening PDF files from a dedicated PDF reader because you made the web browser the default, and it can handle PDF files, so it grabbed that association when you made it the fault. Of course, in this specific example, Edge is the most infamous browser (In my mind anyway) that does this with PDF files, but I am sure it’s not the only browser (or other software) to pick up potentially unwanted system association defaults when set as the default web browser (Or whatever).

    I could see how the new setup described for Windows 11 where you go file extension by file extension in deciding which ones your new default whatever should handle out of the list it provides of what it *can* handle might actually be a more sensible system for power users, and to some regular users who understand what the above article and this comment are talking about). And since you can see the name and the logo right next to each file association, you can see which app is handling it “now” and then mentally decide if you like the status quo or want to hand the default to your new thing and give it a try in each area.

    All that said, this does seem like a case where average users who just don’t understand this stuff may be overwhelmed and give up setting their defaults, which could be the result Microsoft is trying to achieve (Although let’s not rule out that the people who design and engineer this stuff are power users and could simply be thinking “Hey, we just gave the users more choice, not less.”, which, for users who understand the process, they are.).

    I actually want the kind of granular control the article describes early pre-release versions of Windows 11 as having. However, as a compromise to make it simple for users who won’t understand or will give up on setting new defaults because they find the process overwhelming, perhaps there could be a checkbox at the top that just says “Make this program the default for any files it’s capable of opening” and if you check it, the list is grayed out, and then if you don’t check that initial open, you go down the list (not grayed out) as the pictures in the article show. Best of both worlds.

    1. Jeff M.S. said on September 8, 2021 at 5:12 pm

      Nope what you described happened only in Windows 7. Since Windows 8, Microsoft has disallowed programmatic file association stealing using digital signatures. Only the Default apps page in Windows 10 settings could change it and now they have taken it away making it harder by forcing the user to manually change a gazillion file associations and protocols for apps like image viewer, media player, web browser. Windows 10 got it right. Now their antitrust oversight is over and Microsoft are going back to their old ways of preventing competition.

  7. Jeff M.S. said on September 4, 2021 at 11:00 pm

    Super abusive monopoly. They should face antitrust class action lawsuit over this.

  8. Benjamin said on September 3, 2021 at 9:36 pm

    There is a sure and safe way to disable the (up) grade from windows 11?

  9. Tribechief of Talibanistan said on September 3, 2021 at 8:41 am

    I like the ability to do the fine grained adjustment, but there should still be an option to let select an app to become default for a whole group of file extensions.

    So let’s hope this brainless “feature improvement” is just a temporary thing for MS to force people to stick with standard apps until they sorted out all the issues with Win 11 as it’s still Beta, and later re-introduce the old way of selecting an default app, otherwise there’s a huge risk me becoming a radicalized nuke terrorist. :)

  10. Anonymous said on September 3, 2021 at 7:20 am

    Still doesn’t sound too difficult to choose a default app but they’re probably making it hard for the average person. I just want the OS to stop changing it back to default constantly.

  11. chris said on September 3, 2021 at 4:42 am

    We need the Adobes of the world to release Linux based apps..

    Chicken and the egg….the more native apps there are, the more people would move over especially with this crap ms is pulling in Windows becoming an adware platform over time (edge being the data collector).

  12. George said on September 3, 2021 at 2:04 am

    In my book, this is a serious problem. A deal breaker, even.

    Looks like Windows 11 is shaping to become the first “upgrade” to both remove and significantly degrade important, elementary features. In exchange of what? A centered, unmovable Taskbar and some obscure claims about “more security”?

    Thanks, but no thanks.

  13. fdg said on September 3, 2021 at 12:26 am

    @mike that’s nothing new. been like that for decades.. where some old ms oddball file extensions are just not used by anything else (or at least not set to the other browsers when setting them to default)

    that said.. i don’t mind certain things being opened by certain browsers, though no idea how they would go about doing it. eg.. intel’s driver/whatever update utils.. it uses your browser, but i don’t want to use my default browser for that..

  14. Peterc said on September 2, 2021 at 10:51 pm

    I see Microsoft *really* took their slaps on the wrist from US v. Microsoft (2001) and Microsoft Corp. v. Commission (2007) to heart. Some companies are like *cockroaches* when it comes to antitrust abuse. You can’t just turn on a light to make them them temporarily scatter and pretend to behave. You have to go after them with a *hammer*. And why aren’t Microsoft and its GAFAM cohorts getting hammered by the US DOJ and the EU DGC? The following article from France 24 — in French; run it through DeepL or Google Translate — suggests the answer, and it doesn’t even touch on golden-parachute payoffs:

    Comment les Gafam dépensent des millions en lobbying pour influencer Bruxelles
    Un premier rapport sur le lobbying des géants du Net en Europe, publié mardi, dévoile l’ampleur des efforts déployés par les Gafam et les techniques utilisées pour tenter d’influencer le législateur européen.

  15. eWaste11 said on September 2, 2021 at 10:12 pm

    Windows 11 is a waste of time. Why would anyone want to downgrade to it? Windows 10 is miles more functional and it wasn’t even good. The last good OS was Windows 7. Its clear no one developing Windows 11 has ever used Windows before. They wouldn’t be making these stupid decisions if they did. The stupidity of the horrible new taskbar and start menu is astounding. Right click menu is overly large and see through where you can’t distinguish the items. Simple tasks are 10X slower. So many useful functions gone.

    – Start Menu:
    Live tiles replaced with boring grid of icons

    No option to choose different App Icon sizes and end less customization options available in tiles grid

    No App Folders

    No option for Named Groups

    No way to resize start menu

    No option for full screen start menu

    No show more apps option (Current view displays only 18 apps without scrolling)

    Ability to remove pinned apps and show all apps view only

    Usability – Not mouse friendly, lot of mouse travel for every action. No way to remove recommended section, app and all apps buttons are far away from reach. Also you need additional click to reach All Apps. Even for touch users it is very difficult to reach new start menu or apps in two handed mode.

    No badges in start menu

    – Taskbar:
    Drag and drop files to running apps

    Cannot drag and drop app icons to pin to task bar

    No option to choose task bar location

    No option to choose task bar size

    Never Combine Labels options missing

    No option to turn system icons on/off in tray

    No clock on secondary monitor

    System time doesn’t show seconds

    Task bar context menu with ability to launch task manager (only available by right click on start button)

    No toolbars in taskbar. Cannot add Address, Links, Desktop and Custom folders to Task Bar

    No screen snip in quick actions menu

    Shift + Click – No longer open new instance of an app

    No option to quickly change Power Mode (Best Battery Life, Best Performance, etc) from task bar

    Apps can no longer customize areas of the Taskbar

    Cannot view or add Calendar events from Taskbar

    People bar has been removed

    – Windows Explorer:
    No refresh option in context menu, there are many instance where explorer fails to auto refresh.

    All 3rd party app options are now hidden under show more option (Windows has poor history of developers embracing new platform features, so not sure when Devs will add these to new menu)

    Quick access toolbar has been removed. So no option to pin my favorite commands like copy path

    Missing thumbnail previews for folders

    – General/Settings:
    Extremely difficult to change default apps

    Cannot setup Windows 11 Home with local account

    Cannot setup Windows 11 Home without internet connection

    Desktop wallpaper cannot be roamed to or from device when signed in with a Microsoft account.

    Timeline has been removed

    No show windows stacked option

    No option to disable all background apps

    Win + K no longer works for Bluetooth devices(Even new quick settings also missing Bluetooth connection options similar to WiFi)

    New touch gestures doesn’t work well when holding tablet with two hands. Swipe from left edge has been replaced with widgets, switching apps now requires 3 finger gestures.

    1. Mavoy said on September 3, 2021 at 5:07 pm

      Thanks for this comment. All of this really makes me want to never update (I’m on W10). Hell, when I buy a new hardware with Windows 11 I will seriously downgrade.

  16. Miles Willis said on September 2, 2021 at 7:47 pm

    You must use ford gas in your ford; epson ink in your epson printer; edge in win11 etc….

  17. ULBoom said on September 2, 2021 at 5:02 pm

    “…forefront of the defaults experience…” means less than nothing, even less than typical butchering of the E word.

    This is a real mess, similar to what I endured setting up an iPhone12 a few days ago. All of Safari’s settings are outside the browser? Wtf? Same goes for most everything else, scattered everywhere. Most of a day disabling all the crapware I’d never use, maybe 75% of the junk. I reset it and sent it back. Now I have to wait 11 days (?) to delete my apple account since I don’t have the phone.

    Most users of tech stuff can’t possibly understand or care how their devices work or they’d all be pissed; seems being a cult member enduring abuse is job one.

  18. chesscanoe said on September 2, 2021 at 3:27 pm

    I use the method you described. Sometimes I want to open an image with one program and sometimes with another, depending on the imagined vision I want to accomplish.

  19. Mike said on September 2, 2021 at 2:42 pm

    I find it funny that they always say they’re trying to simplify user interface design in order to avoid confusing or intimidating people, but then when it comes to stuff like this where they have a vested interest in preventing users from switching them, well, the article speaks for itself.

    Every user ever has wanted to assign one web browser to open .htm files and another to open .html files… not!

  20. Tacitus said on September 2, 2021 at 2:36 pm

    To be honest, Windows 11 sounds like disappointment The visual aspect may look nice, but the other changes are unwelcome and the end user will be given a cold shoulder as usual. So, I’m quite happy my Win10 won’t be updating to Win11. In 2025 I will finally give up dual boot and switch to desktop Linux. There are some distros whose developers make sane decisions.

  21. adw said on September 2, 2021 at 2:32 pm

    wait.. if it’s a browser, surely there’s an option to do it inside the browser? don’t most browsers have a toggle asking whether to check if it’s the default browser upon load and if not, then ask if you want to change it to default?

  22. RPWheeler said on September 2, 2021 at 2:09 pm

    At my home PC I still use Windows 7 and use BrowserTraySwitch to switch the default browser, or OpenWIth.

    I don’t see any need to buy Windows 11 so far.

  23. Anonymous said on September 2, 2021 at 1:31 pm

    So they can say you have the option to change application defaults.
    Then they make it as difficult and time consuming to do so.
    It’s dark patterns embedded in the Operating System.

  24. C2CTech said on September 2, 2021 at 1:28 pm

    I am a Windows 11 Insider Beta Tester.

    I recently Downloaded the Win 11 Pro ISO Beta version
    22000.132. I did a clean install over my Win 10 Pro.
    then I upgraded to 22000.160 through Win Update.

    I was also very disappointed at all the reduced functionality in
    Win 11. I installed Firefox then ran it as Administrator. I then went
    into settings & made it my default browser. I was shocked that this
    actually worked. I did not have to set file associations this time.

    I did have to go in & change default PDF viewer from Edge to Sumatra PDF.
    Its really funny how Microsoft wants us to be more secure by having strict requirements to be able to install Win 11, but then they expect us to use their Insecure Software programs. How many Security updates have we had with Win 10 since it was released??? & they think Win 11
    is the most secure so far…LOL.

    For Win Pro & of course Enterprise users they should not be Crippling our Administrative rights. For example I use MPC-BE & even in Win 10 It will not allow me to Select All File Associations when run as Admin.

    Just because Win 11 is free is no reason to give us a piece of garbage OS that just makes things more difficult. One last example of utter stupidity is the right click menu change… all the most used items are on the next screen, if I had idiots like that working for me they would be fired.

    1. Anonymous said on September 2, 2021 at 11:58 pm

      Windows 11 probably will have improved Security. Whether the improved security is more effective is the question.

      Computer security is a case of fox and hounds but in this case, very few foxes are caught ever caught. When the hounds find a way to corner a fox, the other foxes work on a new method to get the chickens and evade the hounds.

      Microsoft’s ownership of the largest chicken farm makes them a very attractive target for the foxes.

  25. YB said on September 2, 2021 at 12:26 pm

    It may be easier to use the option: “open with”!
    in Win10, if I double-click on a file, I get this option; I select the software, then tick the box- “always open with…”

    if this option still exists in Win11- it might be the easiest option for users; it is tedious, but at least it will very soon cover almost all the filetypes you are likely to encounter.

  26. Lindsay said on September 2, 2021 at 12:11 pm

    FFS why

    1. wtf said on September 2, 2021 at 3:09 pm

      Someone should have a big shit in a box and label it Windows 11.

      At least it would be plain to see it stinks equally of fascism and is equally annoying

    2. wtf said on September 2, 2021 at 3:05 pm

      Why not?

      Its their product, their money to pay anti-trust suits, why would they design anything for the users, they designing it for themselves

      the choice is simple, dont use windows.

      1. Right_mate said on December 16, 2021 at 3:34 am

        Let me just go and change the entire companies systems at work then…

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