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How do I... Change file extension associations in Windows Vista.

To determine which application will run when you double click a file icon, Windows Vista uses the familiar file extension system made famous (infamous) in earlier versions of Windows. And, just like the previous versions of the operating system, figuring out how to change a file extension association in Windows Vista can be a little frustrating if you don't know where to look.

The Windows Vista tool you use to change file associations in located in the Control Panel under the Default Programs icon.

Oddly enough, searching the "association" in the Vista search tool off of the Start Menu returns no results. Once on the Default Programs screen you have two choices for changing file associations:
  1. Set your default programs
  2. Associate a file type or protocol with a program
You can also change AutoPlay settings for CDs and DVDS for this screen, as well as set program access settings.

The first selection on the Default Programs screen is "Set your default programs." On this screen of the tool you can select a program and give it either complete control as the default program for all file extensions it can handle or you can choose the file extensions you want individually. How the list of programs was formed for this tool is not explained, but there are a few programs missing from the list. The one program that comes to mind almost immediately is Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Clicking the "Choose defaults for this program" on the Set Default Programs screen shows you a list of potential file extensions that can be associated with the particular chosen program. From here you can check additional file extensions you would like Windows Vista to associate with the program.

The second selection on the Default Programs screen is "Associate a file type or protocol with a program." On this screen of the tool you get a very long list of file extensions, including a description and the name of their associated program if it is known. To modify the program associated with a particular extension you select the extension and click the "Change program" button.

In the example shown, I have chosen the .inf extension, which is currently associated with Notepad. From this screen, I can choose to change the association to another available program.

If another viable program is not listed on the screen, you can browse your system for programs. Note, it is generally not a good idea to associate a file extension with a program that is not capable of reading or otherwise acting on it. Once your file extensions are selected you click Save and then OK to apply your changes to Windows Vista.


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