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Windows Vista hints and tips

Tips index

Change file associations

When you double click a file in an Explorer window or on the desktop Windows will look to see if an application has been associated with it. If it has, the application will start and the file will automatically be loaded into it. For example, if you double click any file with a .txt extension you will find that it loads in Notepad. Double click a .doc file and Microsoft Word will load and open it, if you have Word that is. It is a useful feature.

When an application is installed it often associates itself with certain file types to make it convenient for you to open files for viewing or editing. Usually this is a useful thing to do, but under certain circumstances it can be very irritating. For example, suppose you have a great photo editing program that you use for viewing and editing photos. Double clicking a .jpg photo or image automatically starts the program and loads the file. Excellent. But then you install another program, perhaps shareware software that you are just trying out. It takes over the .jpg file association so that double clicking .jpg files no longer opens in your favourite editor, but in the new program instead. That's annoying, but worse things can happen.

Suppose you decide not to keep the new program and remove it. The original file association may not be restored and might continue to point to the program you removed. Double clicking .jpg files then results in an error message from Windows stating that the associated application cannot be found.

Windows Vista makes it very easy to see which files are associated with an application and to change them. It's much better than in previous versions of Windows. Click Start, All Programs, Default Programs. (You can also run it from the Control Panel too.) You have two choices and either Set your default programs or Associate a file type or protocol with a program can be used.

Change program defaultsIf you choose Set your default programs you will see that a small list of programs is displayed. They tend to be internet software and media players. Select Media Player and then click Choose defaults for this program.

A long list of file extensions is displayed and tick boxes show whether Media Player will open when these file types are double clicked. If you have iTunes you can select it in the programs list and see what files are associated with it. By ticking or clearing boxes you can choose whether Media Player or iTunes opens a certain file type.

If you choose Associate a file type or protocol with a program then instead of a list of programs, this time a list of file extensions is displayed. Scroll down the list until you come to .txt and you will see that it is associated with Notepad.

Suppose that you want .txt files to open with a different application. Just double click the entry and a new window opens that contains a list of recommended programs. Word will be one of them if you have it installed on your computer and you could select Word to always open .txt files with it instead of Notepad. WordPad is another recommended program that you could use instead of Notepad.

The recommended programs list is short and there may be programs installed on your computer that aren't on the list. Clicking the Browse button enables you to locate the program on the hard disk drive and select it. Most programs are in the C:\Program Files folder and you'll find that this opens automatically when the Browse button is clicked. After choosing the application to be associated with the selected file type, just click OK and Close and the job's done.