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Windows 8.1: Change the Default Program for Opening Files
Categories: How ToWindows 8

Windows 8.1: Change the Default Program for Opening Files

In my introduction to Windows 8 post, I mentioned how there are basically two different interfaces now available. One is the standard desktop-style interface that we’ve been using forever. The other is the touchscreen Metro-style interface, with all the tiles for various apps on the home screen.

Well, Microsoft’s intent with this operating system is to try to convert people to Metro over time. And one of the things they’ve done is include a lot of Microsoft-developed Metro apps that are similar to other third-party apps that either come pre-installed or that you install yourself. And because they’re so pro-Metro, they’ve made those the default apps for specific file types.

The best example for me is Microsoft’s Reader app for reading PDF files. Now, one of the first things I install on any new computer is Adobe Acrobat. I’m a power PDF user and I want to use Acrobat for reading them. And even if I didn’t, I would still prefer to use Adobe’s free Reader program than Microsoft’s, if for no other reason than I’m much more familiar with it. (Adobe Reader is one of the third-party apps that did come pre-installed on my computer.)

Now, since I’m usually working in Desktop mode, I can just open Acrobat and then browse for the PDF file I want to read/work on. But there are instances where I do it in reverse; double-click on a PDF file to open it. I can do this when I’m exploring the files on my computer or when I get a PDF attachment in an email.

The problem is that 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.)

Ugh. So here’s what you do to change what program opens by default for any given file type.

Open the Control Panel.

If you’ve upgraded to Windows 8.1, you can just right-click on the Start button and pick Control Panel from there. If you haven’t yet upgraded and so you don’t have a Start button, you can also open the Control Panel by going to the Metro screen (press the Windows key) and just start typing “Control Panel.” (Your cursor doesn’t have to be anywhere in particular; as soon as you start typing, a search box will appear.)

Click Programs.

Click Make a File Type Always Open in a Specific Program.

It will take a few seconds, but then a screen will appear listing all the different file types and their associated programs.

Scroll down and select the file type that you want to change the program for, then click the Change Program button.

A list of applications that can open that file type will appear. If the one you want isn’t on the list, click More Options.

Select the program to use for this file type.

The list of file types will refresh and you’ll see the new program associated with the one you just changed. You can then close the window.

Now, when I double-click on the PDF file in my email, Adobe Acrobat automatically launches instead of Microsoft Reader.


You may also be interested in:

Windows 8.1: 3 Ways to Toggle Between Desktop and Touchscreen

Windows 8.1: Boot to Your Desktop Instead of the Start Screen

Windows 10 Has Launched! What Does This Mean for You?

Windows 10: A T4L Special Section

Elizabeth Kricfalusi

View Comments

  • I have window 7. I have just purchased windows 8.1 download with the key. The download is telling me that I need to create a default program for this. The instructions you gave were great but I do not know which default program to select so windows 8 will download. Thank you so much. I am starting a new job and need this tomorrow. I can use my husbands computer which has 10 but would prefer to use mine. Thanks again Candy

    • Hi Can

      I'm not sure what default program you would need to download Windows. What does the message say exactly?

      - Elizabeth

  • previously my laptop was windows 10 then i have downgraded to windows 8.1.. i have backed up all my files ... which is around 200 GB .. now i cant open those back up files..please help me ..thse photos includes my memories

    • Hi Austin.

      How did you back up the files? Did you just save them to an external hard drive or USB flash drive? If so, I'm not sure why you wouldn't be able to open them on your computer now.

      - Elizabeth

  • EXCELLENT!! Very well explained and worked like a charm. My Windows 8 somehow changed almost all my icons to Internet Explorer, which also caused problems opening and saving files. Your remedy fixed it for me and I couldn't be happier. You've improved my productivity a TON! Thanks so much and keep up the great support!

  • sir/ mam i don't know how should i explain my problem.....i have no knowledge about please try to understand my laptop problen.....there is an error which occurs on my laptop.some programme appear on desktop i want to cut these. it's not cutting....what should i do? plz....explain in detail. i have 8.1 windows

    • Hi Anuj.

      I'm not clear on what the problem is. Can you share some more details?

      - Elizabeth

  • Perfect! Thanks so much. I must have changed a choice for how to open pdfs recently, and when I went to convert my resume in Word to a pdf, it wouldn't work. And all the pdfs saved on my pc were coming up as Word dox as well. Yikes! So I followed your steps outlined here and I'm good to go. Seems I have Reader and I didn't know it wasn't Adobe, but that's ok for now. At least I am back to what I'm familiar with on my 8.1 pc, and have my resume in pdf format to use. Now on to the job hunt! Thanks again.

  • This default assignment no longer works in 8.1. I have no idea when or how this happened but now I get a long panel of choices by right clicking and no longer get anything by double clicking like I use to. I am wondering if the last upgrades microsoft is trying to turn my windows 8.1 into 10 without me knowing it? All my .jpg files are assigned to be opened with Windows Picture Viewer but it's certainly not working like it did.

  • I've installed windows 8.1 on my laptop after buying license from [removed by T4L]. I want to activate it to get free upgrade from windows 7 professional to windows 10 home. I'm now confused, How to activate and upgrade to windows 10. Please mention within details.

    • For one thing you made a big mistake by loading up 8.1 and for another you want to go one step worse with Windows 10. I'm getting ready to strip this worthless computer and go back to Windows 7 and if microsoft updates continue to screw with my machine I'm going to put my copy of Windows Vista on here.

    • Hi Naveed.

      I don't know the company you mentioned so I have removed the link from your comment. However, you do not need to upgrade to Windows 8.1 before upgrading to Windows 10. You can go directly from Windows 7 to 10:

      I also have more information available at Windows 10: A T4L Special Section.

      I'm not sure what the situation is now that you've installed 8.1. I recommend you check with the company you got the license from how to uninstall it or how to activate it using their Contact link.

      - Elizabeth

  • I can't open a downloaded program without using a browser it seems. 7 was not like this it didn't need a browser to open a program. How do I fix this.

    • Hi Chris.

      I'm not clear on what's happening. When you download a program, you should be able to find it in your Downloaded folder through the File Explorer.

      - Elizabeth

  • 2015_Nov_17 - THANK YOU! - My recent upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10 enabled ePDF reader and would not let me change my default back to Adobe Acrobat XI Standard; incredibly irritating. Your instructions for Windows 8.x worked perfectly for Windows 10. Thank you for all the detail and pictures; the only difference was after you choose Default Programs; next choice is "Associate a file type or protocol with a specific program" a slight difference for 10 however very easy to figure out.

    • Hey Janet. Glad you found it helpful. I appreciate you taking the time to comment and adding the note about the extra step in Windows 10! - Elizabeth

      • I have my Windows 8.1 set by default to open all .jpg files and it use to work by double clicking on them. Now the only way I can open them after several microsoft updates is to right click and choose a Windows Picture Viewer to open a .jpg file. Windows 8.1 has been a joke since I bought this lousy computer. My friend made the mistake of downloading Windows 10 on his computer and now he stripped it and went clear back to Windows 7 after having too many problems with Windows 10. I can understand why when my computer no longer works like it did from when it was new and it's only a few months old now. The way it looks to me with the defaults not working the updates for my machine are trying to turn this pathetic excuse for a computer into Windows 10 without my permission. I disabled the 10 update a long time ago.

        • Hi Tom.

          It is possible that an upgrade has changed your defaults (it's happened before). But if you follow the instructions in this post, you should still be able to change them back.

          - Elizabeth

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