Windows

Take back control of Vista's default programs and the Open With list

In Microsoft Windows Vista, you can regain control over your default applications, especially when it comes to the Open With menu. Greg Shultz shows you how to clear out the unwanted applications from Vista's Open With menu list.

The other evening my wife was working on her Windows Vista laptop and encountered an unexpected result. She double-clicked on a .PNG image file and up popped the QuickTime PictureViewer. It displayed the .PNG image perfectly, but she had been expecting the image to be displayed by Windows Photo Gallery, like it always has in the past. Claiming that she didn't have any idea how such a thing could happen, she asked me to fix it.

I knew right away what had happened. She had recently installed Apple QuickTime to view a movie that a friend had sent to her and must have clicked Yes when the installation procedure prompted her to alter the default programs. As such, QuickTime had taken over all the default graphic file associations. Fortunately, my assumption that it would be an easy fix was indeed true; however, I decided to take the procedure one step further and remove QuickTime from the Open With list by using a quick Registry edit.

In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, I'll show you how to clear out Vista's Open With list.

This blog post is also available in PDF format as a TechRepublic download.

Using default programs

As I began my investigation, the first place I looked was in the Default Programs tool. To launch it, just type Default in the Start Search box on the Start menu and press [Enter]. When you launch the Default Programs tool, shown in Figure A, you'll see that there are four links that allow you to configure how Windows Vista works with programs:
  • 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.
For this type of investigation, I selected the file type association option -- Associate a File Type or Protocol with a Program. I then scrolled through the list of file types until I located .PNG, as shown in Figure B. As you can see, the .PNG file type is associated with QuickTime PictureViewer.

Figure B

You can see that the .PNG file type is associated with QuickTime PictureViewer.
To reset the file type association back to Windows Photo Gallery, I selected the Change Program button. When I did, the Open With dialog box displayed. At this point, all I had to do was choose the Always Use the Selected Program to Open This Kind of File check box and select Windows Photo Gallery from the list, as shown in Figure C. To complete the operation, I just clicked the OK button.

Figure C

Using the Open With dialog box, you can easily reset the default program that you want to open a particular file type.

Testing the result

I then returned to Windows Explorer, double-clicked a .PNG file, and watched Windows Photo Gallery pop up. However, when I right-clicked on a .PNG file and accessed the Open With submenu, I discovered that PictureViewer was still linked to the .PNG file type even though it wasn't set as the default program, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

The QuickTime PictureViewer was still linked to the .PNG file type even though it wasn't set as the default program any longer.

Now, I am not totally against Apple (even though I'm a PC guy), but I was annoyed that the program had taken over the .PNG file type and so I really wanted to remove all traces of it.

Investigating the Registry

Doing a bit of research on Vista's Registry structure, I discovered that there are five registry keys that have the potential to control the list of programs that display on the Open With submenu:

  • HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\FileExts\.xxx\OpenWithList
  • HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\FileExts\.xxx \OpenWithProgIDs
  • HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.xxx\ OpenWithList
  • HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.xxx\ OpenWithProgIDs
  • HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\SystemFileAssociations\PType\OpenWithList

Where .xxx is the file extension you are concerned with and PType for a file extension could be audio, image, system, text, or video.

In my case, I found that the link between the QuickTime PictureViewer and the Open With submenu was located in the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.png\ OpenWithProgIDs registry key, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

The link between the QuickTime PictureViewer and the Open With submenu, was located in the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.png\ OpenWithProgIDs registry key.

After deleting the QuickTime.png Binary Value from the Registry, the QuickTime PictureViewer disappeared from the Open With submenu. (Keep in mind that whenever you delve into the Registry, you are potentially playing with fire. So make sure that you have a recent backup.)

In most cases, you'll find the item that you want to remove from the Open With submenu in the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\FileExts\.xxx\OpenWithList registry key as a String Value.

For example, I later went to that registry key to remove Windows Movie Maker from the Open With submenu. In that case, I had to delete the moviemk.exe String Value and the MRUList String Value, shown in Figure F. The reason is that while the moviemk.exe String Value represented the actual application link, the MRUList String Value contains the actual list.

Figure F

In some cases you may have to delete more than one registry key.

What's your take?

Have you ever discovered that an application has essentially hijacked a file type on your Vista system? Have you ever encountered a program on the Open With submenu that you didn't want to have there? If so, please take a moment to drop by the Discussion Area and let us hear from you.

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.

20 comments
jaxim
jaxim

How do you add a program under the "Set Default Programs" option of the "Default Programs" window (see figure A in main article)? I'd like to add Photoshop CS3 to the list, but for some reason that and other programs are absent from the list. What makes some of the programs on that list so special to be on it while others are no where to be found?

Gremeleon
Gremeleon

My problem is similar. When I right-click a file in Explorer, I no longer have the option to "send to...an e-mail recipient". Can anybody advise on how to enable this right-click shortcut? Thanks, Gremeleon..South Africa

jjustice
jjustice

Good info. You might wantto write another on "Doing a bit of research on Vista???s Registry structure"...thnx...JJ

john3347
john3347

There are sooooo many programs that try to take over your computer when they get installed. Apple Quick Time is one, but only one of several. It seems that this process of an application being written to make itself the default program is rampant - perhaps as popular as adding a Google (YUK) or Yahoo or some other toolbar to rob precious desktop height. (These toolbars that want to install themselves are made even more annoying with the currently popular wide-screen monitors that are worthless for anything except "panoramic" movie watching) Those that do give you an option of making itself the default program try to hide that option. Very often this backfires on the application publisher because I usually uninstall the application before I even give it a fair trial if it has covertly made itself the default program. Developers, take heed!

reisen55
reisen55

WHY DISCUSS IT???? It is like a forum on the security features of OS/2. Vista will be a faded memory after a few years and why anybody cares about fixing it is beyond me.

Gavincr
Gavincr

I would rather use this option. cmd ftype emlfile="c:\WINDOWS\notepad.exe" "%1" assoc .eml=emlfile Substitute "eml" and Notepad.exe for the extentions and programs you prefer :)

bboyd
bboyd

step 1.)Uninstall QTV step 2.)Scrub Registry with CCleaner or your fav tool. step 3.)Install CCCP and media player classic

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

There have been some applications famous for hi-jacking the default settings, but recently those complaints have subsided -- at least so it seems to me. I wonder what some of the members supporting users have to say about that. Are you getting calls about unplanned changes in default applications? Are there still misbehaving applications taking over files types during installation.

migawka
migawka

any idea how to remove that MS Office Picture Manager from the list?

ThumbsUp2
ThumbsUp2

I agree. If the software doesn't want to play nice, it won't be playing on my system.

markinct
markinct

Disapproval doesn't change the fact that there really is a large install base of Vista users. Sites like TR do a service when they include Vista tips in their content.

pgit
pgit

I'm sure windows 7 will have the exact same tool, so this is kind of "general applicability." The author probably should have made mention of this.

MaeseRalf
MaeseRalf

QuickTime is not a virus, and has (in the normal state) no virus. I found it a right tool to play media content. I love it! Well, really "I loved it", but now I just "like it", as Apple is doing changes in the modern way, and it has lost some behavior that made it good enough to avoid M$ player. If you want to run ".mov" materials, it is the only player. Right about the Picture Viewer; it is a tool with little use in the PC, but it is bundled for free with the QT distribution, so why to worry? The only matter with the "open with" function is the lack of attention, or simply the idleness when installing it. It always asks you to set the "default files association"; when installing, and when running QT or iTunes. And you can do that from the "options" menu, or from the Control panel, "QTimes defaults" applet.

GVC2031
GVC2031

1: what is CCCP? 2: how do you install media player classic?

csmith.kaze
csmith.kaze

Quicktime is the spawn of the devil. You may want to throw in a healthy dose of holy water, just in case. Doesn't VLC player Quicktime videos as well?

MaeseRalf
MaeseRalf

Well, it really comes from (I think) most of the file handling applications. Especially multimedia materials. It is not uncovered by Windows help or any other information service, but since the XP, the "open with list" assumes you might wish to open that type with more than one interface; and hence, it will keep a record of all the options you have entered any time. This is useful to me, as I sometimes wish to open my pictures with PainShop, and others with Satori or any other editor. Then, you can easily select the right one with a right-click. But the problem is not with Apple; instead, it is an outcome from the different philosophy between both creators. You did it the hard way; but I fear the next time you'll open the Picture Viewer or the QuickTime (in other chances a "must-have" app), it will re-gain control over those files. You have to go to the "Options" panel of the QuickTime (by the "options" menu, or directly from the Control-Panel applet for it), and there uncheck the pertinent box. This is a normal issue, the same as for many kind users that simply key-in "Ok", when any window pops-up. They should use to read before typing... But this is almost impossible to get! Many hurried people using procrastinating computers, you know.

ZazieLavender
ZazieLavender

Quite a few programs like to hijack filetypes. The good thing about vista is that it's not hard to change the default program for opening a file, all you have to do is right-click on the file click 'Open with...' and choose the program you want to use, making sure the box that says "Always use the selected program to open this type of file" is checked.

MaeseRalf
MaeseRalf

Hi! Well, CCCP are the initials in Russian for USSR. Other meaning, really, I don't know. About MediaPlayer Classic, it is a single program you may get by Internet. It is the old mode MP from M$, but updated by FreeSoft developers. It is really good, as you can play most of media types you'd have, and it is the easy solution I found to re-gain the good utility that modern versions from M$ has lost. Easy to load, thin in Bytes, fast to play... I use it mainly as rendering tool for files, when exploring my music collection. For playing lists and collections, then I've changed to iTunes, wich is better than WMP (at least by the moment, as Apple is doing the same as M$ with this player). And if you use music from Apple's store (M4p or AAF), it is the only player you might use. To get it running you can work in the old model: "Store and Use"; as it was when the DOS. But you can download it with an installer; just "google" it, and sure you'll get. In CNET, go to http://www.download.com/Media-Player-Classic/3000-2139_4-10518778.html

john3347
john3347

Darkamster2004, are you not meaning to offer this procedure for Windows XP? This is the procedure that I use for XP, but it doesn't seem to be this simple in Vista. It just doesn't work for me as you describe. I find, as this article explains, that when I open the same file the next time, that it is back to the previous setting. I haven't tried the registry fix yet. Just another Vista annoyance.