In order to thwart poorly-behaved programs, Windows 10 made a relatively major change to the way default programs are set. The change can be a little startling if you’re not prepared for it.
So, let’s prepare.
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What’s a default program?
A default program is the program that Windows associates with a specific type of file or a specific action.
If you’re not using your web browser and you request a web page – say by clicking a link in a PDF document – Windows knows which web browser to use, even if you have more than one installed. It’s this specific browser that’s considered your “default”. In my case, I have several browsers installed, but Google Chrome is my default browser.
Other examples include the default mail program used when you click on a link to send email, or the default program to open a document of a specific type, such as using Microsoft Word to open “.docx” files, instead of some other program.
The problem: malicious behavior
Windows includes a way for programs to check the current default for a specific operation, as well as a way to set the default. You’ve probably run into this when running a second internet browser and having it tell you that it’s not currently the default, would you like to make it so?
With a click, you can change your default browser – or you can ignore the message, and nothing will be changed.
The problem? Overly-aggressive programs can change your defaults without asking. Particularly when installing software, PUPs and downright malicious software can change things such that the next time you open a web page or a document, or click on a link to send mail, their software runs instead of your previously-configured default.
Programs can no longer make direct changes to default associations.
Instead, any attempt to do so is treated as if it were a request, and the Control Panel Settings App is run for you to make the change yourself.
For example, if you click the “Set as default” button presented by Google Chrome to make it your default browser, rather than immediately making the change, as in the past, you’ll be presented with the Settings App.
If you really want to make the change, click on the current default, and then choose from a list of alternatives.
If the “request” originated from elsewhere – perhaps some less-than-honest software being installed – you can simply close the settings app, and no change will be made.
In either case, you’ve been explicitly alerted to the attempted change.
My take-away is this: if we’re going to be taken to the settings app all the time anyway, why not just start there if we really do want to change something?
For example, I would fire up the Settings App, and then under System, Default apps, make any or all the changes I might want to.
It’s not something you need to do often, but rather than bouncing back and forth between the running application and the settings app, it feels a little less confusing to just start in Settings and proactively make the change.
Either way, you’re going to end up in the Settings app.