Windows 11 Tip: Change Default Apps

Posted on August 2, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 11 with 31 Comments

For all the talk about calmness and simplicity, there’s one area in which Windows 11 is more chaotic and complicated than before. I am referring, of course, to Default apps, which has been gutted in Windows 11, no doubt intentionally, to make it harder than ever before to switch away from Microsoft’s default app offerings.

Windows 10 provides a Default apps interface—in Settings > Apps > Default apps that lets you configure the default app for several app categories, including Email, Maps, Music player, Photo viewer, Video player, and Web browser.

To choose a new default for one of these app categories, you simply select the category to display a “Choose an app” pop-up, and then choose from there.

Windows 11 dispenses with that interface entirely. Instead, you can search for or scan a list of installed apps.

For example, let’s say you just installed Firefox and wish to make it your new default web browser, replacing Microsoft’s default, Edge. If you select Firefox from the list, you’ll be presented with a list of default file or link types with which this app can be made the default. So, you must tediously select each file or link type and switch each default, one by one. (This is even more tedious with a web browser like Firefox because Microsoft puts in an extra prompt to try Edge.)

But even when you do this, as I have, Edge will still have some of its defaults. To see this, open Edge’s entry in that list of apps: Some file and link types are set to open with Firefox, but others are still set to open with Edge.

What’s missing, of course, is a single switch to make any app the default for all of its supported file and link types (as we had in Windows 7), and a list of default app types, as with Windows 10.

In the good news department, Windows 11 will still prompt you to choose a new default after you install a new app and open a file that can be opened with that new app. This works similarly, if not identically, to how it works in Windows 10.

And you can also right-click a file on the desktop or in File Explorer and choose Open with > Choose another app to see manually change its default at any time. But these two options only work with one file type at a time, of course.

It’s hard to reconcile the new Default apps interface with what Microsoft is doing with the rest of Windows 11. It feels like a major regression.

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Comments (31)

31 responses to “Windows 11 Tip: Change Default Apps”

  1. djross95

    This is disgraceful behavior on Microsoft's part. It's customer-hostile, and worse yet, self-defeating. All it will do is piss people off and encourage them to abandon Edge for other browsers. No doubt automated ways to do this will be developed by third parties, and Microsoft comes off looking like (to reuse an old phrase) smacked asses. No wonder why people are considering other platforms.

  2. lwetzel

    Not sure why so many commenters are making this about Edge and Microsoft pushing Edge. It is about any software that uses any of the myriad standard extensions.

    .jpg, .HTML, .pdf, .doc, etc.

  3. ruivo

    I already use Edge because I can't stand Chrome, and Firefox is getting long on the tooth. But Microsoft's attitude of treating Edge as a teacher's pet is turning me down a bit...

  4. BruceR

    "Some file and link types are set to open with Firefox, but others are still set to open with Edge."

    The two shown, .mht and .mhtml, can't be opened by Firefox, so why is this worth mentioning?

  5. darkgrayknight

    While the removal of the previous interface is apprehensive, what they have added is what actually happens underneath when defaulting apps. This interface has been around for awhile, but was in an old control panel interface. I like this new interface for the detailed version of defaults.

    However, the simple interface of Windows 10 should still be in there, as users selecting a default app aren't going to be aware of how it is all based on certain file types and link types and what those even mean in most cases.

    It was probably a software engineer and not a UI designer that made the decision to remove the simplified default app interface and it is a little weird trying to simplify to any single default app--take Photos as an example:

    How many file types are there for photos?

    How many are supported by the built in Photos app by Microsoft?

    If you have Gimp, Inkspace, Adobe Photoshop,, and the one Paul uses installed and you as the user pick the one Paul uses as the default. Now you try to open a photo in a format that only Gimp (on this machine) knows about from the File explorer. Gimp will open, not the default, which to a normal user might seem weird considering that wasn't the default they picked.

    So this interface would show a little more as to why that would happen, but I don't see why they removed the simpler one that has been there and people have already had this same experience with default apps.

  6. wbtmid

    Microsoft has always been a PITA with browsers. Even down to nagging you when you visited a Microsoft site on an alternate browser. I got tired of this stuff, years ago. So, I leave Edge (or Internet Explorer before Edge) as the default. No browser does everything the way I want! So I have multiple browsers that I use regularly. I like Opera for its speed dial feature that allows me to quickly select web sites I regularly visit (such as this one/) I keep Firefox on a second monitor so I can watch podcasts and other videos on YouTube, while doing something else on the main screen. I also have Chrome installed. All four browsers display the web pages I use, just fine. All are pinned to the taskbar, and will open on the screen I want them on. Now if we could get rid of all the NAG SCREENS to set the browser as the default.

    I am tired of Microsoft acting like they somehow own the computer I purchased with my own money!

  7. bassoprofundo

    Oh man... I noticed this yesterday after reading your Firefox article and deciding to give it another shot. This is like stepping back a decade, and unless it's just one of those "rough edges" they haven't finished but plan to finish before W11 officially drops, there's no way this is not a case of "Surely you don't want to use a browser other than Edge? You do? Good luck with that..."

    • christophercollins

      I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt as this being a rough edge as you described it.

      Personally, I don't like the browser to open everything. I have defaults for xml files (I bring them up in Notepad ++) and I have a PDF viewer I use instead of Edge.

      I'll try this in Windows 11 tonight with Chrome to see how many prompts it is, but this could be evil or well intentioned.

      Submitting feedback may help, if it's too laborous.

  8. bettyblue

    Umm yeah. I tried Windows 11 for two weeks then nuked my system and went back to Windows 10. I hardly use Windows anymore and I will check out Windows 11 in Jan of 2025. Windows 10 will do me just fine.

    Until then ma'am's and of luck!

  9. navarac

    Make note, Microsoft: a PC is NOT a Windows device, and you are making a big mistake in trying to lock down the hardware to Microsoft Windows and its "walled-garden-Appleish" hobbled 'Fisher-Priced' version 11. Not everyone wants Edge or your rubbish Store apps, so back off. You are NOT Apple. As I've said before, my main PCs are now Linux, apart from one gaming rig. This rigging the system towards your software has got to an anti-trust issue.

  10. Alastair Cooper

    I hope I'm wrong, but this feels like how you would approach it if you wanted something you could point to in a court document if and when Microsoft are accused of restricting app choice - but look you *can* change it!! Then they can try to downplay the fact that the process is so obfuscated.

  11. markiehill

    I am technical and it took me a few seconds to work out what is going on with these screens. I cannot help feel that Microsoft are doing everything they can to make sure Edge is the default browser. It is already installed by default - that should be enough.

  12. sherlockholmes

    Is it just me or does Windows 11 make some tasks more difficult or at least do you need more clicks in doing them?

    • navarac

      You definitely need more clicks to do anything substantial. It seems to aimed for the tablet/chromebook simplistic minded folk youngsters who's attention span is as short as a Gnat. All down to the failed education sector using the cheapest hardware/software going.

    • Paul Thurrott

      There are more clicks (steps to getting an action completed) all over Windows 11, yes. This is a byproduct of the simplification push, and I know this is getting tired as an example, but what you see on a right-click of the taskbar is emblematic.

  13. sentinel6671

    This is going to turn into a gotcha and I bet many will choose to stay on Windows 10. It's already a hassle enough to get rid of say, Edge being the default for pdfs. In my company, admin staff use Adobe Acrobat and tech staff use Bluebeam. Hiding the ability to switch to software more appropriate for a business is seriously hostile and counterproductive.

    I hope they change this.

  14. rmlounsbury

    I had just gone into set my default browser and had a blood vessel pop out of my head when I saw this screen.

  15. hrlngrv

    Experience has taught me that merging .REG files to associate plain text files with Notepad++, PDF files with Okular or Foxit Reader, etc is the only way to go.

    Windows XP had [then] a Windows Explorer dialog which let one add actions for file extensions and change the default action (e.g., Open [in an editor] rather than Run for .bar and .cmd files). Maybe Vista had the same, but I never used Vista (it, 98 non-SE, and NT3.x are the only versions I never used). Ever since, adding actions and changing the default action has required using REGEDIT, so might as well use .REG files.

    Sometimes Windows is a lot like a clogged toilet. Get the snake and start cranking.

  16. sherlockholmes

    So much for switching to Windows 11 in the new future. No thank you, sir.

  17. valisystem

    That's a serious step back in the interface. I assume it's another step in Microsoft's relentless promotion of Edge, trying to keep people from immediately installing Chrome and changing the browser default as the first setup task on a new PC. But it's particularly frustrating for music & video, where there are lots of file extensions and Microsoft's built-in apps are pretty unappealing. Groove Music is nearly at the end of life; a user who is sophisticated enough to want an alternative for MP3, FLAC, OGG and the rest will likely be angry at the effort involved.

  18. VMax

    > It’s hard to reconcile the new Default apps interface with what Microsoft is doing with the rest of Windows 11. It feels like a major regression.

    It's making things simpler. No need to worry about third party apps, the in-box stuff will work just fine for you! It feels completely in keeping with the other ways in which Windows 11 is reducing options for supposed user benefit. I don't like it either, but it doesn't seem at all out of step with the other changes.

    • Paul Thurrott

      It is out of step. The other thing that gets broken is when an app, like Firefox, has its own "Set as default" option since that no longer works.

      • VMax

        I'm not saying it's a good idea - I hate it, though I don't think it's quite the unadulterated evil that some commenters are suggesting. But a push to hide complicated things that they don't think your average user should need to worry about cuts both ways, and this, unfortunately, is one of the more painful results.

    • navarac

      It's trying to make PC a Windows device only - and to stop anyone else's software able to run. Microsoft has been taken over by money grabbing greed merchants.

  19. ulrichr

    I don't think this is intended to be how the shipping Windows 11 will work. This is a beta after all.

    In any case if Windows 11 did ship like this, someone will write a simple app to resolve this issue. The only thing it takes is a write to the registry, so it's quite simple to resolve.

    • sherlockholmes

      The thing is: You shouldnt have to write an app after all for Windows to do what you like!

    • hrlngrv

      | This is a beta after all.

      There isn't enough time to add a significant and fragile feature like default app configuration between now and when Windows 11 would need to be locked down to be available preinstalled in new PCs this holiday season.

  20. zakand

    Make no mistake, the disaster of Win11 and the illegal bundling and harassment advertising of Edge (which started with Win10) will kill the platform. This is a MAJOR antitrust issue, and the major players don’t seem to care at all. Why?

  21. constable

    As already pointed out, this is beta software and the ui for choosing default apps can very well be included in the release version.

    If not, well, its been almost 20 years since Microsofts latest legal brouhaha for very similar resons.

    Perhaps it is time for DoD to remind the new generations at Microsoft what the lessons from that last encounter was all about.

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