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Where did file associations go in Windows Vista?


I’m using windows Vista, how do I set file associations here? There is no
files type tab in Windows Explorer Folders Options.

I read this question and went “huh?”. But you’re absolutely right; the
file association dialog that we’ve come to love and hate that’s been part of
Windows Explorer is no longer there.

The question, of course, is where did it go? To a more logical place
perhaps, but with nary a clue as to how to find it.

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File associations are used to tell Windows what program opens what kind of
file. For example after you install Microsoft Office, file associations tell
Windows that a “.doc” file should be opened by Microsoft Word.

In the past when we’ve needed to view or modify these settings, we’d fire
up Windows Explorer, click on Tools, Folder
and then the File Types tab. Only one
problem on Vista: it’s not there:

Folder Options dialog on Vista

On Vista we instead open up Control Panel:

Click on Programs:

Control Panel - Programs highlighting file associations link

Finally we see something that sounds appropriate. Click on Make a
file type always open in a specific program

Vista's file associations dialog

It’ll take a few seconds to load up as it scans the registry for all the
settings to be displayed. Once loaded, you can then change which programs open which
file types.

Why the move?

It’s hard to say, though I do frequently fault Microsoft for changing things
that simply don’t need to be changed. There’s an argument that this should
always have been in Control Panel and I actually agree with that. But to move
it, without even a hint or a clue as to where to go instead, seems fairly

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49 comments on “Where did file associations go in Windows Vista?”

  1. I can’t be sure, but I believe this has been moved because it’s not as necessary as it once was. Recently a business associate sent me a Microsoft Word file with no file extension (i.e. no “.doc”, just a name). Of course, my main box on this contract is Windows XP, so double-clicking on the file just gets me a dialog box asking what program to use to open it.

    I asked the associate if she was on a Mac, because I’ve often received files with no extensions from Mac users.

    She said she was using the latest versions of Vista and Office.

    I’m thinking that Microsoft has gone to using an embedded file type like Mac instead of extensions on the file name.

  2. Greg: I don’t think so. I have Vista, and it seems to work just the same re extensions as XP did. I’ve renamed several types of file (including word document) to remove the extension, and every time, the icon changes to a blank page, and double-clicking brings up the dialogue asking what program I want to open it in.

    As for why the dialogue’s in a less prominent place now — well… it isn’t. It’s right there on the Start menu. In the right hand column, between ‘Control Panel’ and ‘Help & Support’. You can’t get much more prominent than that!

    I suspect they moved it because they’re trying to get people to notice and switch to the new program-centric defaults dialogue (“Set your default programs”) rather than the old extension-centric defaults dialogue (“Associate a file type with a program”, the one you show above), probably on the grounds that it’s much more user-friendly (e.g. people who haven’t enabled ‘show extensions’ and so don’t know what extension is what can still set the programs they want to use for different filetypes).

  3. I usually do this by opening Vista’s Windows Explorer. I then find a type of file I am interested in, for example an MP3 file. I then right click on the file and select from the context menu

    Open With -> Choose Default Program….

    Then choose from the programs or use the Browse… button to find the program. Make certain the “Always use the selected program to open this kind of file” checkbox is checked.

    This is a very fast way of changing associations.

  4. Great article and it helps solve my problem! However, HOW do you know WHICH file to change a program to? AND what does “unknown program” mean?
    When I get an email and click to open the attachment and there is no file association to go with it, how can I possibly know what program does?
    Please, answer this for me!!!!!!!!

  5. Can you edit the way you edit a file also? That was with the same screen in Xp, but in Vista that window in gone. When you rightclick on an item (a jpg) you can open , print, edit and a bunch of other stuff. When you click edit it opens Microsoft photoeditor, can you change that to Photoshop p.e.. How can you do that in Vista, in XP isn’t it a problem.


  6. But how does one REMOVE an association – completely? Dreamweaver snagged .ASP files on installation. Now .asp pages on the internet do not open in IE. Dreamweaver starts up instead. I followed the reassignment instructions and choose IE. The unhappy result: instead of being browsable by IE, I get an IE open or save dialog box. So it still doesn’t work. I went in to try to change this setting again and I see that Vista has created a list of preferred programs to open .ASP’s: Dreamweaver and IE. I just can’t make this go away.

  7. Same question like Michael Brandt’s. I do not want an extension to be associated with ANY programs. I associated a program with an earlier unknown extension by mistake. To remove an association was easy to manage in earlier Windows versions but how to do it in Vista? Neither the article nor the comments helped: the only option is to raplace the associated program by another one.

  8. Can I just ask, I have vista and my problem with the file associations is that when I reach the point where you have to choose the program, where would I go to find Microsoft Word 2007? I thought I had found it, but when I clicked on it, it didnt come up in the “Open With” box. Do you have any idea? Please help.

  9. MS changes things just because they want to and/or to save users from their supposed stupidity… and this is a perfect example.

    1. some file types are not even listed
    2. ditto for programs, with NO way to select / browse to another one.
    3. where did editing the context menu actions for a file type go?
    4. or adding extra actions?
    5. on top of that, say you want to work with several file types– after you’re done with each one that whole module closes…and back to clicking just to get to that module again.


  10. I think I might have a problem similar to Ada’s. I am unable to associate Word 2007 (Winword) with .DOC files. I have tried the right click “open with” routine, and have also gone through Control panel to try and set Winword as the default program. Nothing works–seems to be a registry problem. I can open .DOC files from within Word, so they are usable that way but it’s a pain. I can also create a new user profile and everything works fine that way–normal file associations and all. However, I am reluctant to copy all my files and settings over to a new UA without trying to find a solution first. Any thoughts? I would really appreciate it :)

  11. found the association area and the option to ‘change’. How to you change it to nothing or unknown program. I associated a .let extention to notepad and I don’t have anything that will open the file and I don’t want anything to associate to it.

  12. To answer Grant, Michael and Andras:

    The command “assoc .ext=” should remove the association for all .ext files. However, I wasn’t able to get it to work.

    I found the following GUI:
    The “Remove file association (User)” button didn’t work either, I guess it just issues the command “assoc .ext=”. I went the extra mile and selected “Delete file type,” which solved my problem – removes the extension from the registry completely.

    For you poor sods who’ve managed to associate critical file types to the wrong program (one unfortunate lady associated .exe with Adobe Acrobat, WOOPS!), there’s a utility that will ‘repair’ those critical file types back to the way they should be:

  13. This solution is NOT THE SAME as the file type associations I knew and loved in Windows XP. How do you set multiple file associations that pop up as menu options when you right click on the file? How do you specify command line options for the programs in the file associations? (for example, to not display the “splash screen” for MultiEdit I have to specify “Mew32.exe /nosplash %1”. How do you change the icons associated with the associations? None of these issues are addressed in the new “Windows Vista” way of associating files. Is there any way to gain this kind of control over file type associations in Vista?

  14. My customers often send me .ai files that need to be engraved and I use CorelDraw for my machines- there is no .ai extension in the Vista list and no CorelDraw extensions are to be found. Although Corel does recognize .ai files, I usually have to download to my XP laptop, put it on a disc (Vista won’t recognize my PNY zip drive, either) and run it out to the computer in my shop to see if it will accept that. All things considered (Vista also won’t let me use my HP scanner!), I sincerely and deeply hate Vista.

  15. Leo, thank goodness I found your site. A friend sent me a WMV file. And of course I couldn’t open it.(I have Vista) It told me I needed to associate a file to open it. I typed in the ‘search’ box Associated file panel.’ wouldn’t you know it. It came back ‘No results’ How lame can a ‘search’ get? I followed YOUR very clear instructions and was successful in viewing the video, although there was a kind of fight between ‘Real Player’ and ‘Windows Media’.
    Thanks so much for your help. I will recommend you to all of my similarly frustrated friends.

  16. Can’t Associate in Vista:
    My legacy (DOS) 3.4 version of MaxThink (“MT”) (circa 1987):
    Over the years (21+) and operating systems I have continually and reliably been using MT. It remains and likely will remain a program as essential to my use of the computer for any reason as the microprocessor itself.
    Although its author, Neil Larson, had kept current with MS evolving OS’s, I had been able, because of MS’s willingness to support legacy programs, to use my MT 3.4. It was only this past January 2008 as my Win98se machine began to show its 10 years of fading further into antiquity, naturalized by MS’s burgeoning OS’s and faster hardware, did I make the switch.

    The sweet little Dell Inspiron 530 running Windows Vista Home Basic SP1 which I just picked up at the end of 8/2008 is the kind of quantum jump I like to experience. Alone, it’s ten-fold increase in processor clock speed and thirty-fold increase in RAM is that quiet thrill of speed I liken to a commercial jet airliner versus my Acura.

    Setting up the association for MT in Win98se wasn’t exactly straightforward. What worked required that I run a .BAT file to make the connection between the data file and the MT.EXE when they did not share the same folder.

    This became the procedure I was to follow in Vista.

    Being an old legacy app, there was no standard Windows installation which would include writes to the REGISTRY. I simply copied the MT folder into the C:\Program Files folder.

    However, when I went to modify the .BAT association file, to account for a different folder name I had given to MT, the changes would not save even though the file closed after editing. A little strange I thought but surely at the very least I couldn’t expect a change if it didn’t take hold. So, I moved the .BAT file out of the C:\Programs Files folder, modified it there and then copied it back. The changes then appeared.

    As a newbie to Vista and not at all read up on it, I drew the field conclusion that maybe the Vista C:\Program Files folder doesn’t permit changes made to its contents. But I got my work-around change so I proceeded.

    To make the association, I right clicked the file and followed the directions to OPEN WITH the .BAT file which I “browsed” to as permitted.

    The first trial proved that the MT .EXE would open BUT to an empty editor and surely therefore without the contents of the MT data file to which I had activated.

    Then I found your sight after many hours of having those exciting witches-in-the-Windows hunts that we’ve all so thrilling experienced in the past. Still, the sensible clock to resolution was fast running out and I could throw money at the problem with a purchase of MT for Vista itself. The dollars had already been a fraction of the Las Vegas play I had allowed myself.

    Your great clarity to this problem “Where did file associations go in Windows Vista?”,
    as Google confirmed, was my last hope.

    A thousand thanks for all your efforts and those of your concerned and thoughtful respondents to this issue.

    No, this didn’t fix the problem either.

    Nevertheless, the discussion on your webpage has convinced me more than ever that a software technique exists for the “association” issue I’m experiencing and that sadly after years of avoiding the usual controversies of an MS OS release, I too have become a convert.


  17. One common action I’ve added to every machine over the years is the ability to open a command shell in a folder or drive. This was simple… go to file types, select the Folder or Drive file type, click Advanced, then click Add new Action, give it a title (like “Command prompt…”) and associate cmd.exe.

    Unfortunately, the Vista list of file types only includes extensions and protocols, not “system” types like “Folder”.

    I assume I can go into the registry to accomplish this, but that’s error prone and not something I’d demo for students as I have the technique above. Is there an easier way? If so, please update the article.


  18. Hi,
    I’m having problem with my vista. I accidentally associated iTunes. All my program icons changed and replaced with iTunes icon. Whenever i opened a program it will open instead iTunes. Whenever i UNINSTALLED iTunes all my other programs’ icon would return to its proper icon and you can then launch the program as per normal. However, when i REINSTALLED iTunes it would again associate iTunes to all my other programs. I have downloaded several fixes but seems not working. What options do i have here? Thank you.

  19. This gets me to the point of changing the file’s association. However, I’m still stuck looking for the winzip application.

    Original problem: zip files have inadvertently been changed to open as Flash files.

    I need to browse to winzip to change it; I don’t know where winzip is kept on Vista.

    Winzip does not come with Vista. Winzip is a separate program you download and install. Doing so, it should fix the association automatically.

    – Leo
  20. …one thing Leo, if you wish to change a property of an extension, you can’t do via the Control Panel Method. Such as opening more than one Excel window, one has to change the excel.exe command from /%1 to /e.

  21. App’s for the effort, but as most efforts, it doesn’t provide needed blurp for ‘classic view’ users (ie, we dont have in control panel, “Programs”, instead we have “Programs e and Features”), so the article should blurp that.

  22. For some reason, my classic view (Vista Hp Prem w/SP1) isn’t displaying “classic view’ in the windows like the article snap shots show. So it seems the article fails to blurp for some users ‘we’ find the pathway different than the article currently says. I go to control panel, then “Default Programs”, the instead of ‘set associations’, my link is “Associate a file type or protocol with a specific program”.

  23. Ok i can do this for any other file but i messed up before and accidentally set .zip files to internet explorer and the box wont let me unclick it.

  24. I had a problem with XP where I could not open a WVM attachment to an email. I added WVM via folder options and that corrected the problem for my email. However, my wife is a separate user on the same computer. When she brings up her emails the attached WVM file comes up as unknown and will not open. Why can I oppen and my wife can not?

  25. I have a similar problem to Bokansen. Itunes 9.0 associates itself with
    .lnk files, so all of the shortcuts on my computer now open Itunes.
    I have uninstalled, reinstalled, installed an earlier version, and gone
    to file associations, but there is no viable options there.
    I dont think this is a common problem, but I know there are others out
    there who have the same trouble.
    Any suggestions on how to fix this?

  26. in the aove discussion of set assoc. your answer was too generic. if you want to open a pdf file, and an error message reads go to the control panel ans set assoc., then what do yo set the assoc to in order to read a pdf attachment to an email i received. i read the above but again your answer is almost there. it should provide a specific example such as the one i js provided

  27. I would like to share a solution related to file association issues. My situation, I associated a program (name not important) to its file type. Then I uninstalled that application and upgraded to new version. Vista would not let me re-associate the file! Short answer, modified a key in registry pointing to old file executable, and fixed problem. Hope this helps somebody, it is a Microsoft bug.

  28. Sorry to appear stupid, but I couldn’t find “.doc” on the list. I cannot open these files on Vista. It tells me to “Set Association”. Any help please?

  29. hi
    as soon as i install adobe crbrat pdf all my desktop icons changing to be pdf files can u please helping m to solve it out

  30. All of that stuff does not answer the question.
    What file association opens .doc in Vista?

    .doc is typically a Microsoft Word document.


  31. One of the options I found useful in XP that was built into the File Types tab was the ability to create and edit menu commands (like the “Edit” command when you right-click on an image file) but in Vista I don’t seem to be able to do that. It’s annoying as I want the program to preview in Windows Photo Gallery, Open in Adobe Photoshop and Edit in Microsoft Paint. I wonder if that was something they took out of they simply moved it somewhere else.

  32. This is precisely why I tell my clients “Don’t upgrade anything unless you have a specific reason to do so”. In general, the new version of anything will run slower in the same hardware and will involve relearning things you do not want to have to relearn. I can only imagine they do it to give the ILLUSION OF PROGRESS.
    For people who look at computers as a tool to get a job done, myself included, all these esthetic changes are a NUISSANCE.

  33. All well an good BUT my list of file extensions to choose from does not include .doc !!!it only has .docx.
    But I have Office XP installed. So where why is .doc not on the list, and where did it go?
    Is this something to do with having installed the Office 2007 convertor patch?

    Anyway, what this means is that when I download a .doc off the web my computer cannot find a program to open it with. I am forced to save it to disk and open it from there. Barking mad. Any ideas?

  34. Hello Gentlemen!

    I have found those options and just tried to change the default, but it is not happening. The so called “Associate a file type protocol with a program” does not work and I am in a bad situation. my iTunes and some of my direct links to .exe files such as few control panel options are now opening in a OpenOffice document with blank page. I close the blank page but it reloads like virus.
    If you can find a solution, please contact me at:
    [email address removed]
    Thank you guys,


  35. I am unable to send an attachment with a dat file and DO NOT show a dat file in file association.

    If I do reset to dat will I have to change association back on future e-mail attachments?

  36. I really needa you to help me i just ordered a usb for my cell phone online and i was really happy to try it but once i tried it what came out was that i needed to setup an association on the setup control panel and i try to but for i could change the program i need to know the name from the extension please help me

  37. I have Windows Vista (x64) and there is no ‘Programs’ in Control Panel. There is ‘Programs and Features’ and is like the XP Add Remove Programs. No mention of file associations. Hmm.


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