How to Choose and Change the Default Programs in Windows 10

Set your program preferences

What to Know

  • Easiest way: Go to Start > Settings > Select Apps > Default Apps. Select a current default to change it, then choose a new option.
  • Or, go to Control Panel > Default Apps > Set defaults by app. Select an app and choose Set this program as default.
  • Or, go to Start > Settings > System > Default apps > Choose default apps by file type. Choose a file type and associate an app.

This article explains how to change your default program preferences in Windows 10 from Settings or the Control Panel.

Defaulting to Settings

Using the Settings app to change your default program preferences is easy and quick. Microsoft recommends using this method, as the Control Panel is being phased out.

  1. Go to Start and choose Settings.

  2. Select Apps > Default apps.

  3. Under Choose Default Apps, you'll see a list of basic default apps, including email, maps, music player, photo viewer, video player, and web browser.

    This list doesn't include your default PDF reader.

  4. To change a selection, click on the current default app. A panel will pop-up with all the various programs that are eligible to replace your current default. Select the program you want.

    For example, change your default web browser from Firefox Microsoft Edge, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Opera, or you could search the Windows Store for a new app.

Fall Back to the Control Panel

Sometimes, however, changing your web browser or email program just isn't enough. For those times it's easiest to use the Control Panel for swapping defaults.

Scroll down to the bottom of the Default apps screen and you'll see three choices you can click on:

  • Choose default apps by file type.
  • Choose default apps by protocol.
  • Set defaults by app.

Unless you know what you're doing, don't mess with the option to change your programs by the protocol. Instead choose to change your defaults by app, which will launch the Control Panel version.

Let's say Groove Music is your default music player and you'd like to switch to iTunes. Scroll through your list of programs in the Control Panel and select iTunes.

Next, you'll see two options:

  • Set this program as default
  • Choose defaults for this program

The former sets iTunes as the default for every file type the program can open. The latter lets you pick and choose if you just want to select a specific file type such as M4A or MP3.

Settings for File Types

To choose a default program by file type, it might be easier to do that in the Settings app. Go to Start > Settings > System > Default apps > Choose default apps by file type.

This will open a screen with a long list of file types and their associated programs. If you wanted to change the default PDF reader, for example, you'd scroll down to .pdf in the list, click on the current default program, and then a list of possible default programs will appear. Choose the one you want.

Control Panel's Fate

Microsoft's method for setting defaults in Windows 10 is a little annoying since you end up bouncing between the Settings app and the Control Panel. The good news is this won't be the case forever as Microsoft intends to replace the Control Panel with the Settings app. That way you'll have a universal settings experience across all Windows device types including PCs, tablets, and smartphones.

When that will happen is unclear. Even though the Settings app is getting better, some key functionality still resides in the Control Panel, such as the ability to uninstall programs and manage user accounts.

For now, we'll have to muddle through with a dual world where some settings are changed in the Control Panel while others are taken care of in the Settings app.

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