Two years ago, during the 2014 Blogathon, I wrote a post about how to change the default programs for opening files in Windows 8.1. This was back when that was the hot new Microsoft operating system and it was totally different from Windows 7.
Now, a lot of people are upgrading to Windows 10 from Windows 8.1, and while it does have a lot of improvements (hello decent Start menu!), it’s not such a different experience. However, one of the things Windows 10 does during the upgrade is reset a bunch of default programs, so even if you had changed them previously, you may need to change them again and the steps are a little different from Windows 8.1. Between that and a lot of people who will be going straight from Windows 7 to Windows 10—either through the upgrade process or when they buy a new computer—I thought it was worth doing a separate post about changing the default programs for the latest operating system.
NOTE: Technically, Microsoft offers a chance to customize your defaults during their installation process, but like many of the aggressive tactics they’ve used around Windows 10, it’s very easy to miss that option.
What do I mean by default programs?
The best example for me is Microsoft’s Reader app for reading PDF files. I prefer to use Adobe Acrobat (or Adobe Reader if I’m on a computer where Acrobat isn’t installed) to read PDFs because I’m more familiar with it. And while I can just open Acrobat and then browse for the PDF file I want to read/work on, there are times when I just double-click on a PDF file to open it, e.g. when I get a PDF attachment in an email.
Now when I do that, it opens Microsoft’s Reader app, not Acrobat. (The app will also open automatically when I create a PDF file from another program, like Word.)
And it’s not just Microsoft Reader. Most of the defaults are now built-in Microsoft apps instead of third-party programs that you may prefer, e.g. the new Edge browser instead of Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc. And it’s even with their own standalone programs; I use Microsoft Outlook for email but the default for Windows 10 is their Mail app.
So here’s what you do to change what program opens by default for any given file type.
Click the Action Center icon and click All Settings.
Click the System icon, then the Default Apps link in the left-hand column.
This window has a few of the more popular apps listed, like email and browser, but not the one for opening PDF files.
Scroll down and click the Choose Defaults Apps by File Type link.
It will take a few seconds, but then a screen will appear listing all the different file types and their associated programs.
Scroll down to the file type for which you want to change the default program.
Click the icon for the current default program. A menu will open up that lets you select from programs installed on your computer that can open that file type. You’ll also have an option to look for a new app in the Windows Store.
Note: In one of the most spectacularly bad user interface fails I’ve ever seen, when you select the alternate program, it doesn’t change in front of you. And there’s no OK or Apply or Confirm button. Instead, you click the X at the top right of window to close it out and that saves your new setting. (You can reopen the window to confirm it.)
On the plus size, now when I double-click on the PDF file in my email, Adobe Acrobat automatically launches instead of Microsoft Reader.
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