Changing the Program that Opens a File

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated March 9, 2015)

Brian has two versions of Excel installed—2007 and 2010. Somehow Excel 2007 has become the default program for opening .XLSX and .XLSM files. The majority of Brian's work is done with Excel 2010 and that is the one he wants for the default. Brian wonders how to change it without uninstalling either version.

When you double-click on a file in Windows, it determines which program to use in order to open the file by consulting an internal "association" table. This table is basically a small database that says "if a file has ABC extension, then use program XYZ to open it."

In Brian's case, Windows has Excel 2007 associated with .XLSX and .XLSM files—when double-clicked, it is the Excel 2007 program that is called in to action. You can easily change the program associated with a particular file extension by following these steps if you are using Windows 2007:

  1. Use the Windows Explorer (Win+E) to locate either a .XLSX or .XLSM file on your system.
  2. Right-click the file. Windows displays a Context menu.
  3. Choose Open With. Windows displays the Open With dialog box. (See Figure 1.) If, instead, you see a secondary set of options, select Choose Default Program to display the Open With dialog box.
  4. Figure 1. The Open With dialog box.

At the top of the dialog box you see some variation of Excel as the recommended program with which to open the file. (On an Excel 2007 system it will likely say "Microsoft Office Excel," while on an Excel 2010 system it will likely say "Microsoft Excel.") The recommendation is always the current program associated with the type of file on which you right-clicked in step 2.

What you want to do is to find the program for Excel 2010. If it isn't visible on the screen (either in the Recommended Programs area or the Other Programs area), click the Browse button and navigate until you find the program file—probably in the c:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office14\ folder.

Select the file and then make sure the Always Use the Selected Program to Open this Kind of File check box is selected. When you click OK, Windows changes the association and Excel 2010 will now always open when you double-click that type of file.

The general procedure just described for Windows 7 systems is essentially the same with Windows 8 systems, but the steps and interface are different.

  1. Use the File Explorer (Win+E) to locate either a .XLSX or .XLSM file on your system.
  2. Right-click the file. Windows displays a Context menu.
  3. Choose Open With. Windows displays a small prompt indicating the program currently associated with the file type. (See Figure 2.)
  4. Figure 2. Information about the program associated with a file type.

  5. Make sure the Use this App for All .XLSX Files check box is selected.
  6. Click More Options. Windows expands the number of programs shown.

At this point what you are seeing is essentially the programs (or "Apps") that Windows knows about on your system. You need to find the program for Excel 2010. It may be visible in the list, or you may need to click the Look for Another App On this PC option, at the very bottom of the program list.

Select the correct program and Windows updates the association.

Whether you are using Windows 7 or Windows 8 you will, of course, need to perform these steps for each file type understood by Excel: .XLSX, .XLSM, .XLS, .XLSB, .XLTX, etc. Because there are so many associations to change, you might find the second way of changing them. Follow these steps:

  1. Display the Control Panel.
  2. Click the Programs heading.
  3. Click the Make a File Type Always Open in a Specific Program link, under the Default Programs heading. The dialog box now shows all the file associations on your system. (See Figure 3.)
  4. Figure 3. The Set Associations list.

  5. Scroll through the list and click once on the association you want to change. (In other words, look for and click once the filename extension you need to change.)
  6. Click the Change Program button. Windows displays the Open With dialog box (Windows 7) or shows the current program association (Windows 8), as discussed earlier in this tip.
  7. Use the available controls to locate and specify Excel 2010 as the desired program.
  8. Repeat steps 4 through 6 for each of the other associations you want to modify.
  9. Click Close.

 This tip (13379) applies to Windows 7 and 8.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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