Windows Vista's Default Programs tool more than what you'd expect

Windows Vista's Default Programs tool contains a new twist as well as several other additional features.

While exploring in Windows Vista recently, I discovered something that I had previously overlooked because of its lackluster name — Default Programs. I just assumed that Default Programs was akin to Windows XP's fairly innocuous Set Program Access and Defaults tool. That tool was added at the SP1 stage and was designed to alleviate charges of Microsoft's anti-competitive business practices by allowing Windows users to easily specify the third-party browser, e-mail, messaging, and media programs as the defaults. Because of that, I relegated Windows Vista's Default Programs tool to the bottom of my list of things to investigate and moved on to more interesting sound features and tools.

However, when I finally got around to running the Default Programs tool, I discovered that while it does serve the same function as its predecessor, it also contains a new twist as well as several other additional features. In this week's edition of the Windows Vista Report, I'll take a look at the Default Programs tool.

Launching Default Program

You'll find the Default Programs tool languishing near or at the top of the All Programs section of the Start menu. When you launch the Default Programs tool, as shown in Figure A, you'll see that there are four links you can use to configure how Windows Vista works with programs in four different ways:

  • Your default programs
  • File type associations
  • AutoPlay settings
  • Computer default programs

Figure A

The Default Programs tool provides you with four different ways to configure your default program options.

Default programs

When you select the Set Your Default Programs item, you'll see the window that lists all of the programs that Vista considers the defaults and possible defaults for the browser, e-mail, messaging, and media programs. When you select a third-party program such as FireFox, which contends with Internet Explorer, you'll be given the option to set the program as the default, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

When you install third-party software, you can choose in your user profile which program you want to be the default.

As you can see, this is very much like Windows XP's Set Program Access and Defaults tool; however, there is one significant difference. The options you set in this part of the Default Programs tool apply only to your user account — they won't affect any other user accounts on the computer.

File type associations

Changing file type associations in Windows XP wasn't a very straightforward procedure because you had to monkey around with all the controls on the File Types tab in the Folder Options dialog box. However, changing file type associations in the Associate A File Type Or Protocol With A Specific Program window, as shown in Figure C, is a real piece of cake.

Figure C

Configuring file type associations is an easy task in Windows Vista.

All you have to do is select a file extension and click the Change Program button. Then, at the Open With dialog box, as shown in Figure D, just select the program.

Figure D

The Open With dialog box will show you all capable programs for a specific file type.

AutoPlay settings

When you insert a CD, USB Flash drive, or other removable media, AutoPlay kicks into action and immediately prompts you to use the application associated with the files on the media. When you choose Change AutoPlay Settings, you'll see the window shown in Figure E, and will be able to configure the program that you want AutoPlay to launch when you insert the device or media. You can even completely disable AutoPlay if you desire.

Figure E

Having a one-stop location for all of your AutoPlay configurations is a very nice addition.

Program access and computer defaults

When you select the Set Program Access and Computer Defaults, you'll encounter a User Account Control dialog box and will need to respond appropriately. Once you do, you'll see the Set Program Access and Computer Defaults window, as shown in Figure F. As you can see, this user interface and its configuration options are identical to the Windows XP's Set Program Access and Defaults tool. And, like the Windows XP version, this one sets the defaults for everyone that uses the computer.

Figure F

This part of the Default Programs tool looks and works just like its Windows XP counterpart.


Now that you know about all of the features in the Windows Vista's Default Programs tool, you'll be ready to take full advantage of everything that it offers.


Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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