How To Change File Associations in Windows 8.1, Open Files from The Desktop

Written by Brian Burgess

Irritated with not being able to open files from the desktop the way you used to? Our Brian Burgess was. In his latest How To gallery, he shows how to change file associations in Windows 8.1 — so you can open files from the desktop the old-fashioned way and stay on that desktop you’re used to. Say goodbye to the Windows Photo app … — The new UI in Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 perplexes plenty of people. Try opening a PDF file from the desktop the way you used to do it. Instead of the PDF opening with a click, you end up with the Windows 8 Reader app open full screen. And if you don’t know how to easily get back to the desktop it’s a real pain (tip: you hit the Windows key). Here’s how to change file associations in Windows 8 and 8.1 …

Windows users are used to the desktop. That means a huge annoyance because most of your files are set to open in the modern apps by default. That is fine on a Win 8 tablet like Surface RT, but on my desktop PC, not so fine. Here’s how to open files on your desktop temporarily — and how to change file associations so you can keep doing it in the long run.

If you need to open your files on the desktop quickly, the easiest way is to use a program temporarily.

Just right click the file you want to open. Select Open with and select the program you want to use.

(All following screenshots credited to: Brian Burgess)

7 Open With Temp

Over the long haul, you want a more serious fix. Here’s how to change all file type associations in Windows 8.1.

First, from the Windows 8 start screen,  type: default programs

Then click the result under Search Results.

1 Default Programs

Another way to get there is to employ the keyboard shortcut combo Windows Key + X. This will bring up the power user menu. Click Control Panel and open Default Programs.

2 Control Panel Power User Menu

Now click: Associate a file type or protocol with a program link.

3 Associate a File type or Protocol with a Program

Next run through each file type. Select the program that will open each file. Sure, this will take some time, but this effort will buy you total control over which program opens each file type later.¬†Once you set it, forget it. You’ll only have to endure this process once.

4 Choose Program

If you want to change default programs in a faster and even broader way, go to Set your default programs. From there highlight the program or app you want to set, then click, at right, Set this program as default.

Notice below that I selected the Windows Photo Viewer. I will set it to open all photo types. Maybe you feel differently about it, but having my images open in the Windows 8 Photo app all the time irritates me.

5 Set Default Programs

Here’s how to get granular and have even more detailed control. Select Choose defaults for this program. Then check the file types you want it to open. Did I mention that having all my images open in the Photo app aggravates the hell out of me?

Check Select All.

6 Select All

I should note that changing file associations works in Microsoft Windows versions XP through Windows 8.1 — but this feature takes center stage with the new interface.

You’ll want to set these right away in Windows 8 and 8.1, so when you’re working in desktop mode you stay there.

No way am I wasting time fighting between the desktop and the modern interface while I’m trying to get basic work done.

For, I’m .

Based in Pelican Rapids, MN, Brian Burgess led the relaunch of BYTE with Gina Smith, co-founded with Gina, John C. Dvorak and Jerry Pournelle in 2011, and serves as the editor-in-chief of He is the How To gallery captain here at Email him at or Find him on Google at his +BrianBurgess page. Follow him on Twitter as @mysticgeek.


  • same as niko, there is not a file extension there to edit. Torrent is what I would like to associate with Utorrent but cant find a way to edit the extension list in “Associate a file type or protocol with a program”

  • Anyway of scripting this, so you can change file associations on many computers quickly? Or a registry edit? Thanks

  • how do you set it up to always prompt? i want it to ask me everytime which program to use… i cant right click and say open with as the files are in onenote and the only option is right click then open… please help

  • You can change the default programs (sorry, “apps”) but it only seems to work for awhile, before this retarded garbage asks me again.

    I seriously dislike Windows 8. I think I’ll get an Apple Mac, or move to Linux, anything other than this garbage.

  • Right since Windows 3.1, I’ve always opened files by opening the programme first, then navigating to the directory where the file was stored and opening it like that. I always felt it was better to keep a rigidly hierarchical and disciplined Directory Structure. I’ve never saved short-cuts to files to the Desktop, never… it’s messy. Consequently, I thought Windows 8 was terrific, I still went on doing what I was doing, but all the Apps and Programmes and navigation was made simple for me, because it was right there on the Tiles interface! Fantastic. Could never understand the fetish about the desktop or the Start Menu. I always kept my Programme Shortcuts on the Taskbar in the old days, like OSX can’t seem to shake off, but you don’t need that any more either. Windows 8.1 is great. Of course Windows 10 looks like a bit of a retrograde step, but we’ll see……

  • how can i do the same into windows phone ? I would like to set as default acrobat pdf reader when i do open pdf files