Customizing Windows 11: How to Change Default Apps (2024)

Windows 11 adds slick design updates and some great new options to Microsoft’s desktop OS, but it doesn’t make everything easier. The process for changing default apps is a notable example. Windows-watching tech pundits raised an outcry about the difficulty of changing the default web browser from Edge to, say, Chrome or Firefox. Microsoft heard those cries and eventually addressed the issue, making it easier to change your default browser. We'll show you not only how to make that change, but also what's involved in changing other default programs in Windows 11.

By comparison, in Windows 10 (which many still use), it’s always been easy to choose, say, a default music player. First, click on the app listed below a function (such as Email, Music Player, Photo Viewer, or Web Browser) in the Default Apps section of the settings. Then, choose a new default app that's capable of handling the media type. That's the full extent of it.

Customizing Windows 11: How to Change Default Apps (1)

(Credit: Microsoft)

With Windows 11, the process is more complicated. You need to specify a default app for every file type, not just for a broader group of them. For file categories such as videos, that's a problem because of the sheer number of formats that exist: AVI, MP4, MOV, MKV, and WMV, to name just a few. Despite this change in Windows 11, it's still not tremendously difficult to set a new default app, but it sometimes requires more effort.

You can still set default apps file type by file type, but subsequent updates have added simpler ways. We'll show you both options here.

How to Change Default Apps in Windows 11

  1. Open the Settings and tap on the Apps section in the left-hand menu. Note that in the 22H2 update, Microsoft added a capability that lets apps link directly to the appropriate section of Settings for this kind of change, though you still have to go through the steps below for all app types except web browsers. You can pin the Settings icon to the Start menu in Windows 11, but it's not there by default. (You can also add a button for it next to the power button on the Start menu by going to Settings > Personalization > Start > Folders.)

    Customizing Windows 11: How to Change Default Apps (2)

    (Credit: Microsoft)

  2. Choose Default apps. Windows 11 lists every single app on your machine. You can search for an app or for the file type you want to assign to an app.

    Customizing Windows 11: How to Change Default Apps (3)

    (Credit: Microsoft)

  3. Click on the app you want to set as the default for a file type and you see the list of all file types it is capable of handling.

    Customizing Windows 11: How to Change Default Apps (4)

    (Credit: Microsoft)

  4. Click on the file type you want to change the default app for. Then you see a menu like the one below (note that the look has been redesigned in Windows 11 style in the 22H2 update).

    Customizing Windows 11: How to Change Default Apps (5)

    (Credit: Microsoft)

  5. The last step is to choose an app from the list. After that, you have to repeat the process for each file type that you want to use with that app.

Another Way to Change Default Apps: The 'Open With' Option

Customizing Windows 11: How to Change Default Apps (6)

(Credit: Microsoft)

Another way to change a default app is to:

  1. Right-click on a file in File Explorer.

  2. Click Open With (which is more conveniently and consistently the second choice in Windows 11's context menu).

  3. Pick the Choose another app option. Doing so opens up the same app selection box as in the first process, except at the bottom you see buttons labeled Always and Just Once. Tap Always, and you're done.

An Easier Way, Just for Browsers

With the April 2022 update, a button appears on Settings' Default Apps page. Note that on one of our test Windows 11 systems, an optional update was required: Cumulative Update for Windows 11 for x64-based Systems (KB5011563).

The default app settings interface is the same as described as above, except if the app happens to be a web browser. In that case, you see this option when you're on the default app settings page for the browser:

Customizing Windows 11: How to Change Default Apps (7)

(Credit: Microsoft)

In this interface, you simply click the Set Default button on the right side. Here we've changed the default web browser to the longtime alternative program, Opera. The same works for Brave, Google Chrome, Vivaldi, and so on. For other non-browser types of programs, however, you still need to assign a default for each file type the application can open.

Yet Another Easy Way: At Installation

With the first method, you need to understand what file types you want to work with, though I expect most PC users know that JPG is an image and DOC is a document. That said, the process for changing default apps is still easier in Windows 10 than 11 because it lets you do so for all relevant file types at once. Some applications offer to do it for you automatically during their setup process. Firefox, the popular, privacy-focused web browser, and VLC, a Swiss army knife for media libraries, are two examples.

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The first time you run Firefox on Windows 11, the web browser asks whether you want it to be your default browser. If you don’t make this choice on the first run, Firefox continues to show a banner across the top of the browser window with this prompt. In testing, choosing the option at startup or the one from the banner both did the job with zero fuss.

Customizing Windows 11: How to Change Default Apps (11)

(Credit: Microsoft/Mozilla)

VLC Media Player

VLC is an old-school, open-source application that’s famous for being able to play just about any media file. You can choose to make VLC the default media player at installation, which sets it as such for more than 70 file types. Unfortunately, several important file types remained the purview of the Movies & TV and the Windows 11 Media Player. In VLC’s preferences, there’s an option called File Extensions Association, but that simply tells you to go to the Settings > Apps > Default Apps section as outlined earlier.

For more on Microsoft's new OS, see all our Windows 11 coverage.

Customizing Windows 11: How to Change Default Apps (12)

Customizing Windows 11: How to Change Default Apps (13) Windows 11: The Review

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Customizing Windows 11: How to Change Default Apps (2024)
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