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How Windows 10 Changed Setting Default Programs

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?

Not your default browser

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.

The change

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.

Choose your default browser

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.

The shortcut

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 SystemDefault apps, make any or all the changes I might want to.

Choose default apps

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.

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12 comments on “How Windows 10 Changed Setting Default Programs”

  1. I thought it was a problem with my installation that when I double click on a file that it sometimes asks me to choose a default program even though that default program had been working for years before.

  2. Some interesting information, Leo, but no – one seems to address the fact that Win 10 (in its perverseness) keeps resetting my browser to Edge – from FireFox/Google. I don’t WANT Edge – and if I had a pound for every time I’ve reset it in the last month or so, then I’d have enough money for a slap-up steak dinner! Any thoughts on why this keeps recurring? Cheers, les.

    • Yes , I have exactly the same problem with Windows 10 on 1 laptop . You cant make google your default browser at all . Edge over rides all your choices . Each automatic Windows 10 update , changes all my settings to Edge . Windows 10 does not work .
      I have Windows 7 Pro on the other one , and each update is smooth and does’nt maliciously screw around with my settings .

  3. I use a program called Polyview, Windows refuses to show it either in the settings app. I have to run explorer, right-click on a ‘jpg’ select properties, then change the ‘Opens with’ setting.

  4. And behavior like this in Windows 10 is the reason why so many conspiracy theories are spawned on the web. That being said, just because you’re paranoid, does not mean that they aren’t actually out to get you.

  5. I have no objection to the change. It’s nice to know that a default cannot be quietly reset without my knowing. However, I wish Microsoft would add a little detail to the “an application default has been reset” message in the action centre to indicate what the default was reset from, and what it was reset to.

  6. Hi Leo, is there a way to turn off windows updates they take control of my laptop and I lose work, and some updates take hours, I am thinking of going back to Windows 7 till someone fixes this big headache.

    • Change the settings to a metered connection. Updates “should” not happen without you initiating them.
      Check your active hours and change them to when you are likely to be using your machine.

  7. Although going to Settings App, and then System, Default apps is a quick way of changing your default apps, I found that I could not change my default photo app to Windows Photo Viewer using this method – even when I was logged in as an administrator! In fact, it took me ages to find how to change that – but unfortunately, I cannot remember HOW I finally managed to do it! So next time I perform a reset, I will have to struggle to find how to do it all over again 🙁

  8. How do I set Chrome the default browser, it is not listed as one of the choices? I can set it to Firefox or edge. How do I backup only the default apps via *.reg file for speedy changing it back to my choices.

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