Set Default Programs in Windows 7/10

Windows associates almost every file on your computer with a specific program. For example, Word files with the *.docx file extension are naturally associated with the Word application. However, you can manually change the default program with which various files open. Read on to learn how to set default programs in Windows 7 and Windows 10.

What are Default Programs?

Most files on your computer have a file extension that is normally a three or four letter designation following the last dot in the file name. File extensions help Windows associate the files with the appropriate program or application.

However, some files can be opened with multiple programs. For example, Rich Text Format (*.rtf) files are readable by just about every word processing program. To make life easier for you, Microsoft automatically associates files with programs for you.

In fact, Windows will actually warn you if you try to change a file’s extension. Luckily, you can manually change the default programs and applications with which files are associated.

Windows 7 File Extension Renaming Warning

Change Program Default in Windows

To change the program defaults in Windows 7, begin by clicking on Start > All Programs and then locate and click on the Default Programs icon at the top of the list. If you can’t find this icon, you can search for Default Programs in the Search Programs And Files search box on the Start Menu.

Click on the Default Programs Icon

In the window that opens, click on Set Your Default Programs to open the programs default options window.

Choose Set Your Default Programs

In this window, you will notice on the left hand side there is a list of the programs you have installed on your computer. Click any of the programs and notice that you instantly get two options.

The first option allows you to automatically make this program the default application for files that are normally associated with it. Web browsers normally have files with *.htm, *.html, *.xhml, etc. extensions associated with them.

Clicking on the Firefox program on the left and then clicking Set This Program As Default would associate all web type files with Firefox. Of course, which programs appear on the left hand side of your window depends on which applications you have installed on your computer.

Windows 7 Set This Program as Default

There is a second option available to you that is much more configurable. You can actually associate some file extensions with one program and other file extensions with another.

Click on WordPad on the left hand side of the window and then click on Choose Defaults For This Program. In the window that opens, notice that you can split the normal file extension associations between or among multiple programs.

Windows 7 Set Associations for a Program

For example, *.docx and *.rtf files are both normally associated with Word. However, you can use this window to associated only *.rtf with WordPad while leaving *.docx files associated with Word. In this way, you can completely customize which files open with which programs by default.

In addition, on the initial screen where we clicked on Set your default programs, you can click on the second option, Associate a file type or protocol with a program, to select a specific file type first and then pick the default program for that file type.

Although Windows 7 does a good job of associating files with programs, you can customize which files open with which programs on a file extension by file extension basis. This allows you to set up your computer in a way that is most efficient for you.

Windows 10 Default Programs

In Windows 10, the entire default programs dialog has been moved over from the Control Panel to the Settings dialog. To access it, just click on Start and type in default app settings.

By default, it has some main categories like email, maps, music player, video player and web browser. Click on the program and you’ll get a list of compatible apps that can work for that category, If nothing else is listed, you can look for an app in the App Store.

At the bottom, you can click on Choose default apps by file type, Choose default apps by protocol or Set default by app, which are all similar to the options I mentioned for Windows 7. 

That’s about it! Windows does do a good job overall of giving users very customizable options for controlling which programs open which files on the PC. Even though most people rarely change these settings, they exist and can really be fine-tuned. Enjoy!