How to Set New Default Apps in Windows 10

I’m not a big fan of Windows 10’s built-in apps. That’s why I always download third-party alternatives, which are typically more powerful. However, this also means I often need to manage default apps.

Unfortunately, Windows 10 offers a completely different interface for managing default apps compared to Windows 7 or 8. In my experience, it can be overwhelming and confusing.

After some experimentation, I’ve come to understand and take control of my default apps. If you’re struggling to manage default apps in Windows 10, continue reading this guide.

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Changing Default Apps

I’ll demonstrate four methods to change default apps in Windows 10. First, I’ll present a simpler way to change default apps, suitable for most regular users. Later, I’ll introduce more detailed methods for advanced users.

1. Change via the “Open with” Menu

The “Open with” context menu option is still available in Windows 10, and it’s not much different from its predecessors. For those who want to quickly associate a default app with a specific file type, this method is ideal. While it’s not the best choice for managing multiple file types, I’ll address that later.

  1. Right-click on the file for which you want to change the default app. Navigate to Open with > Choose another app.
  2. Choosing another app from the context menu
  3. Under Other options, you’ll see a list of apps that can open the selected file (click More apps to view all). Choose the desired app from the list and check the box next to Always use this app to open (X) files. After clicking OK, the chosen app will be set as the default.
  4. Selecting the default app from the list

If your desired program isn’t listed, scroll down and click on Look for another app on this PC. This action will open the File Explorer, allowing you to navigate and select the executable file (.exe) of your preferred app. Both the desktop shortcut and the original executable file can be selected.

Searching for another app on the PC

Accessing the Default Apps Manager

For the subsequent three methods, you’ll first need to access the Windows Default Apps Manager. To do this, navigate to Windows 10 Settings > Apps > Default apps.

Windows 10 Default Apps Manager
2. Modify the “Choose default apps by file type” Option

If you scroll down in the Default Apps Manager, you’ll encounter an option labeled Choose default apps by file type. This method is likely the most comprehensive way to modify Windows 10 default apps.

Upon opening it, you’ll be presented with an extensive list of all file types supported by Windows 10. Adjacent to each file type is an app that can be associated with it. To change the default app, simply click on the app next to the desired file type and select your preferred application.

Interface to choose default apps by file type
Example of associating a file type with Windows Media Player

The file types are listed alphabetically, so locating your desired file type should be straightforward. The only limitation is that this section doesn’t permit you to associate file types by searching for apps on your PC. You’re restricted to the apps that Windows 10 has pre-listed.

3. Modify the “Choose default apps by protocol” Option

Another option you’ll find is Choose default apps by protocol. This pertains to links or URLs in your browser or apps. To clarify, I’m not referring to standard website URLs. Instead, I’m highlighting complete protocols dedicated to specific apps, such as MailTo links that necessitate an email app, or an FTP URL that demands an installed FTP server.

Interface to choose default apps by protocol

While many of these protocols are tailored for Microsoft services and can only be managed by Microsoft apps, there are several protocols that third-party apps can handle. The available apps are listed next to each protocol, and you can click on them to select the desired app if it’s available. However, you’re limited to the apps that Windows 10 displays, with no option to browse your PC.

Choosing an app for a specific protocol
4. Using the Old Default Programs Manager

The previously mentioned options are effective for managing default apps. However, I have a personal preference for the old Default Program manager that was introduced with Windows 7 and 8. Fortunately, it remains accessible in Windows 10, and Microsoft has thoughtfully provided a link to it within the Windows 10 Default Apps Manager.

Within the Default Apps Manager, you can select the Set defaults by app link to access the old Default Programs Manager.

Interface of the old Default Programs Manager

On the left side, you’ll observe a list of all the apps installed on your PC, encompassing both native and third-party applications. Upon selecting any app, you’ll be presented with two options: Set this program as default and Choose defaults for this program.

Here’s a breakdown of each:

Options for setting a program as default

"Set this program as default"

Activating this option will associate all file types and protocols that the chosen app can manage. Exercise caution with this feature and employ it only when you fully trust the app for all related tasks.

For instance, while I rely on the Opera browser for opening all my links—including MailTo—I prefer Adobe Acrobat for accessing my PDF files due to its superior performance. Consequently, I cannot utilize the “Set this program as default” option indiscriminately. It’s essential to review all protocols and file types beforehand and then apply this option if suitable.

"Choose defaults for this program"

This feature grants you the ability to individually select file types and protocols. It will display all file types and protocols that the app can handle. Your task is to mark the checkboxes adjacent to the file names and then click Save to link them with the app.

Interface to choose file types and protocols for an app

However, it’s worth noting that you cannot deselect any pre-associated file types or protocols. This is because if you remove the default app for a specific file type, no app will be able to open it until it’s reassigned. As a result, Windows prohibits this action. To disassociate a file type or protocol from the current app, you must assign it to an alternative application.

In my opinion, the Choose defaults for this program option offers a superior approach to managing defaults, granting users comprehensive control.

Resetting Default Apps

While managing defaults, it’s easy to mistakenly assign incorrect default apps to files. Fortunately, Windows 10 provides a Reset button that restores all default apps to Microsoft’s recommended settings. This Reset button is located within the Windows 10 Default Apps interface, and activating it will instantly revert all defaults to their original settings.

Resetting default apps in Windows 10
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For many users, the Open with context menu option will suffice, given its simplicity and adaptability. However, for batch adjustments, reliance on the dedicated Default Apps Manager is necessary.

It’s also beneficial to be aware that you can export and import default app associations. This feature can be invaluable when transitioning to a different PC or after resetting Windows.