How To Restore Your Windows Default Programs

Installing new software on Windows often results in changes to your file associations, meaning that pictures, music, video or other files no longer launch the way you expect. Here's how to get things back the way you want them in Windows 7.

When you double-click on a file in Windows, it automatically launches the program associated with that type of file. On a fresh copy of Windows, that will generally be a built-in tool (such as Windows Media Player for video). When you install new software, it will often change those file associations, so that a different program gets launched. Well-written software should tell you before it changes file associations, but not every developer is so well-behaved, and it's often easy to skip past the screen where the option is offered in the excitement of installing a new program.

Two programs that frequently catch out new users are iTunes (which wants to set itself as your default media player) and Picasa (which wants to be your default picture viewer). Both programs do a decent enough job of those tasks, but if you'd rather use something else that loads more quickly (I like IrfanView for images) or to stick with the defaults, you'll want to change those associations back if you missed the dialog where you originally got the choice to not use them.

Restore your preferred software

  • Click on the Start button, and type the word 'Specific'. The option 'Make a file type always open in a specific program' should appear under Control Panel in the results. Double-click on it. This will open the Set Associations window.
  • Scroll down the list of files to find the type you want to change. (If you're not sure of the file type, see the section on extension views below.) Click on that type, then click 'Change program'.
  • Choose the alternate program you want to use. If it isn't already displayed, click 'Browse' and locate it on your hard drive.
  • When you've chosen the program, click OK.

Repeat the process for any other file types that have switched away from your preferences.

Switch extension views back on

By default, Windows hides the file extension (such as .jpg or .doc) for common file types when you use Explorer. That can make for a less cluttered screen, but it can also make it trickier to work out which file types have been changed by other software. I recommend switching the option to view extensions back on, which you can do by following these steps.

  • Open the Documents window (or any other explorer window) from the Start menu.
  • Tap the Alt key to make menus appear, and then select Tools -- Folder options.
  • Go to the View tab, and make sure that 'Hide extensions for known file types' is deselected (no tick).
  • Click OK.

While Windows actually uses file type properties rather than the extension to work out which application to launch when you double-click a file, for humans it's easier to use the extension as an identifier.

Lifehacker 101 is a weekly feature covering fundamental techniques that Lifehacker constantly refers to, explaining them step-by-step. Hey, we were all newbies once, right?

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