Windows optimize

Discover hidden features in the Windows 7 Default Programs tool

The Default Programs tool found in Windows 7 contains several configuration features that could make your life easier. Greg Shultz investigates.

While exploring in Microsoft Windows 7 recently, I discovered something that I had previously overlooked -- Default Programs. I just assumed that Default Programs was like Windows XP's Set Program Access and Defaults tool, which was added at the SP1 stage and was designed to alleviate charges of Microsoft's anticompetitive business practices by allowing Windows users to easily specify the third-party browser, email, messaging, and media programs as the defaults.

However, when I actually ran the Default Programs tool found in Windows 7, I discovered that while it does serve that same primary function, it also contains several other additional configuration features. In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll take a look the Default Programs tool.

This tip is written for Windows 7, but the same basic principles apply to Windows Vista.

Launching Default Program

You'll find the Default Programs tool near or at the top of the All Programs section of the Start menu. You can access it quickly by clicking the Start button and typing Default in the Start Search box. When you launch the Default Programs tool, as shown in Figure A, you'll see a list of four options that allow you to configure how Windows 7 works with programs:
  • Your Default Pprograms
  • 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 option, you'll see a window that lists all the programs that Windows 7 considers the defaults and possible defaults for the browser, email, messaging, and media programs. When you select a third-party program such as Google Chrome, which competes 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 which program you want to be the default in your user profile.

Keep in mind that 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 previous versions of Windows has never been a very straightforward procedure. However, changing file type associations in Windows 7 using 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 7.
All you have to do is select a file extension and click the Change Program button. Then, when the Open With dialog box appears, as shown in Figure D, just select the program you want to associate.

Figure D

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

AutoPlay settings

When you insert a CD, DVD, 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 your AutoPlay configurations is a very nice addition.

Program access and computer defaults

When you select Set Program Access and Computer Defaults, 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 who uses the computer.

Figure F

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

What's your take?

Now that you know about all the hidden features in the Windows 7's Default Programs tool, will you take advantage of everything that it has to offer?

Also read:

About

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.

21 comments
lindajjustice4
lindajjustice4

Wow, this was really helpful, i didn't know some of it. I just know the windows show hidden feature option and i just do a normal search at the run bar for it. I'm going to apply each and every one of it. Thanks. https://www.techienow.com

virtualburn
virtualburn

I still used a well refined version of XP. I'm considering the move to Win7 as I'm sure this is where the corporate environment will be for the next 10 years as soon as they lose the fear of moving away from XP. Or maybe we'll just step back 50 years and all be working from the new revised IBM 704 cloud server. Either way, as soon as the end-user is working from a dumb terminal they will lose whatever access they thought they actually had anyway. In my opinion MS has lost more credibility with each release of Windows since Windows 98. they've missed the boat with Windows 8 which is more like Windows 3.11 than anything they've had the audacity to push down our throats prior. If not for the fact XP as been in use for so long and has had so much development support MS would be nothing more than a name in the Android App Market. *cough* *cack* *sigh*

bill-brown
bill-brown

Better familiarity a plus. Will use it when I need to.

Alan.craig1499
Alan.craig1499

Found out I must have Admin rights to use. Another great reason to use least privilege for normal user activity.

rocket ride
rocket ride

The catch is that the program has to be one that Windows deigns to recognize as being able to open the file type in question. The browse button in [i]"Control Panel/ All Control Panel Items/ Default Programs/ Set Associations"[/i] lets one browse one's way to a program file that can open the file in question but I can't recall ever seeing it actually succeeding in forcing windows to add such a program to its list of programs that can handle a given file type. Nor will [i] right-click/ Open With/ Choose Default Program/ Browse"[/i] do anything remotely like causing the selected program to actually open the right-clicked-upon file. The program in question definitely will open the files in question (it's a freeware app called PhotoFiltre which opens .jpg files from its "open" dialogue box just fine), so that's not the issue. Is there a way to force Win7 to play nice, like a registry hack?

emailadsspam
emailadsspam

I just need to know more about "File type associations"

maj37
maj37

I have seen that in the all programs and sort of assumed it did what you say, though I wasn't aware of all it did, but when I wanted to do that sort of thing I never remember the option is there. Thanks.

MarkFreed
MarkFreed

Wow, I did not know that. Could be helpful, thank you!

tainos_cs
tainos_cs

I have Win7 on my computer, typing "Default" on my search or run bar only comes back to tell me [Windows cannot find "Default". Make sure you typed the name correctly and then try again]. Why would this be? I have Win7Prof on a Dell M6600 Workstation.

fjames
fjames

In earlier OS's, you could go to Windows Explorer, Folder Options, File Types to set the actions associated with an extension. There, you could set options other than "Open". For example, the default Open for .cmd is cmd.exe. You could add an "Edit" option could set that to Notepad (or UltraEdit); subsequently, when you wanted to edit a .cmd file, you could then pick "Edit" from Explorer's Context menu, rather than Open with.... I can't figure out how to do this in Win 7.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Have you been taking advantage of the Default Programs configuration tool in Windows 7?

Gisabun
Gisabun

And there are a few things where you don't want a novice user to touch!

dogknees
dogknees

I just did this and it worked perfectly. I set a couple of different extensions to open with Notepad, and it did exactly that when I double-clicked files with that extension.

Gisabun
Gisabun

I type in "Default" and the first line is "Default Programs".. I also have Win 7 Pro. Maybe Dell buggered things up.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...Search box, all versions of Windows 7 should search the entire system and return anything that contains the word "Default." Please try again and let me know.

Fyrewerx
Fyrewerx

I'm not positive, but you may have to go to Start/All Programs and click on Default Programs (near the top of the list) first, and choose some settings. This may create the "Default" config file that will be accessed when you type "Default" into the Search box.

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

Find a file, say, something.mp3. Right-click on it and click on Properties. Under the General tab near the top it says "Opens with:" and says what program double-clicking the file will open. Click the "Change" button to the right of the program name. Then select what program you want to use. This changes the default for all .mp3 files. Not intuitive when you are used to the other way. This is how 7 and Vista do it.

Becksly
Becksly

Hope this helps but like you I had the same issues, I found a program called "FileTypesMan" - which is freeware and can be found at "http://www.nirsoft.net/utils/file_types_manager.html". It allows you to do the things you mentioned in addition to other stuff like changing the icons used etc, just like the old file types under folder options in older Win OS's. - Shame Win Vista & 7 don't seem to have this type of thing built into the OS's GUI anymore - at least not as far as I can tell.

nikunjbhatt84
nikunjbhatt84

I hate the new interface or the limitations on features. The older File Type interface was very flexible.

TG2
TG2

Agreed ... limited functionality .. which really is the way everything microsoft is going ... they remove the features that could make the tool more powerful ... and so when you get infected, and some cracker futzes with the extensions in a way that THIS tool doesn't give the user choices to mess with, the user is left scrambling to find some OTHER way to find, fix, and restore the settings. And what has happened to the Confirm Open after download? No where is this issue more deserving for microsoft to be slapped than with the auto download auto open crap that Adobe is getting away with, where you must actively edit the registry to disable such stupidity ... same goes for ANY document type .. at NO TIME should the user just simply click a link in a web browser and have the default action of Download *AND* Open be applied.. its like Nimda/Code Red never happened ... like there aren't macro viruses any more, or like adobe's command instructions couldn't be worse than clicking on a file that says "OpenMeIwillInfectYou.exe" And the never hide extensions .... which in fact still hides extensions like pif, url, etc.. even in the show known extensions there are still hidden extensions.. just waiting for the day another "I love you" virus happens.