Resetting default file
types in Windows and Mac OS X
by Alan Zisman (c) 2008
handy feature of modern personal computers is the ability to
double-click on a document and have it open up in an application that
lets you view, print, or make changes to that document. Operating
systems like Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, store information about
'registered file types', enabling them to match a document to the
But sometimes the results you get may not be
what you want. Sometimes you might want to use a different application
than the default, but only some of the time. For instance, most of the
times when you double-click on a saved HTML file you probably want to
view it in your web browser. But some times, you might want it to open
in an HTML-editor. Similarly, you might have one program for viewing
JPG graphics (like digital photos) and another program for editing them.
times, installing or even just running a piece of software may switch
the file type information in ways you don't want. I have a piece of
graphics software that came with a digital camera; I don't use it
often, but it has one feature that I like to use from the time to time.
The problem is that whenever it's run, it insists on making itself the
default program to open JPG images.
Luckily, it's relatively easy to set the registered file type to the
program of your choice. Here's how (in Windows):
1) Open Explorer or My Computer, and navigate to a folder or drive with
an example of the file type in question.
this Windows XP Explorer window, you may notice that the icons for the
two *.doc Microsoft Word files have a pair of eyeglasses- that's the
icon for Microsoft's free Word Viewer application, a program to view
and print-- but not make any changes to MS Word documents. And the
*.rtf Rich Text Format document has the icon and description of an
OpenOffice spreadsheet file.
(I have the Windows Explorer option
set to display file extensions- Windows has that turned off by default.
It's worth restoring it by click the Tools menu, choosing Options, and
going to the View tab).
Right-click on one of the problematic files- in this case, either of
the *.doc files. A so-called context menu will pop-up:
Click (left-click, that is) on Open
With > to see the following options:
older versions of Windows, you will have to hold the Shift or Alt key
at the same time that you right-click in order to get Open With as a
context menu option).
Note that it lists several programs that
the computer knows will work with this file, including WordPad, the
Microsoft Word Viewer (the current default) and Microsoft Word. If you
just want to use one of these programs this time, but don't want to set
it as the default for this file type, select one of those. But if you
want to change the default-- or pick a program that isn't listed, click
the last option: Choose Program...
Here, you get a longer list, along with a button allowing you to Browse for an application that isn't
listed here. As well, there's an option to [ ] Always use the selected program
to open this kind of file.
I selected that option, clicked on Microsoft Office Word, and clicked
OK. The result- the document opened up in Microsoft Word, and when I
closed it and retured to Explorer, I can see that the file icons have
changed, giving me the correct Microsoft Word icon for both *.doc
files-- and for all others stored on my system. (I did the same things
to reset the *.rtf file so that it, also, would be recognized as a
Microsoft Word document type).
can do something similar in Mac OS X, with similar steps (though
there's an important difference). In this case, I edited a JPEG graphic
using the shareware GraphicConverter program. It's a good program, but
after saving my changes, the saved graphic automatically opens in
GraphicConverter rather than in Apples Preview program.
(Unlike on Windows, this changes the file type for just that single
saved file, not for all JPEG images).
change it, again, I can right-click on the file. (Yes, your Mac
recognizes two-button mice, and will use the right-mouse button if
given a chance. If you have Apple's white 'Mighty Mouse'-- the model
with the little ball near the top to scroll vertically and
horizontally, you can turn on the 'hidden' right button in the Mouse
system preference... then pressing the right-side of the mouse is a
right click. Alternatively (and especially on a Mac laptop that lacks a
right-click), hold the Control key down and click... it's the same as
right-clicking a two button mouse).
As in Windows, an option menu will pop up:
As in Windows, there's an Open With
option. (Left) clicking on it shows the default program along with
other possible choices. Again, choosing one of them will open the file
in that application this time, but not change the defaults for that
file. Again, if you want to change the defaults or use an unlisted
application, choose Other...
Choosing it opens the following dialogue box:
get shown the contents of your Applications folder, with 'recommended
applications' in black and others greyed out. If you want to use one of
the grey ones-- for instance, Kompozer, my prefered web editor is
greyed out if I do this with an HTML file-- change the Enable: setting to All Applications.
As in Windows, there's an option to [
] Always Open With... if that is not checked, the document file will
open using the selected application this time only.
in Windows, changing the default in this way does not affect all files
of this type-- it only changes the settings for that single file.
October 5 2008
Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He
can be reached at E-mail