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Customizing Windows 11: How to Change Default Apps

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 With Windows 11, Microsoft makes it a little more difficult to choose which apps handle webpages, photos, and documents. Follow these steps to set default apps for all your file types.

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.

In Windows 10, it’s easy to choose a default music player. First, click on the app listed below a function (such as email, photo viewer, or web browser) in the Default Apps section of the Settings app. Then, choose a new default app among those on your PC that is capable of handling the media type. That's the full extent of what you need to do.

With Windows 11, the process is more complicated; you need to specify a default app for every picayune 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 are just a few of them. Despite this change in Windows 11, it's still not tremendously difficult to change the default web browser, for example, but choosing defaults for other applications may require a bit more effort.

Default apps settings in Windows 10

How to Change Default Apps in Windows 11

In Windows 11, you can’t just choose an app to play all the video file types I mentioned above. You need to choose an app to open each one individually. Here’s how:

  1. Open the Settings app and tap on the Apps section in the left-hand menu. The Settings app is more hidden than it was in Windows 10; on that OS, the Setting app is always available right above the Start button. In Windows 11, you need to hunt for a gray gear icon. You can pin the Settings icon to the Start menu in Windows 11, but it's not there by default.

Apps settings in Windows 11

  1. Choose the second choice, Default apps. Instead of showing the app type the way Windows 10 does, 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.

Default Apps Settings in Windows 11

  1. Click on the app you want to set as the default for a file type and you’ll see the list of all file types it’s capable of handling:

Choose file types for an app in Windows 11

Notice here that Microsoft Photos is handling all the photo file types, since that program's icons appear next to the file extension entry.
  1. Click on the file type you want to change the default app for. Then, you see a menu like the one below:

Select app for file type in Window 11

  1. The last step is to simply choose an app from the list. (Incidentally, this app selection dialog box is one of the few window types for which Microsoft did not add rounded corners.) After that, you have to repeat the process for each file type that you want to use with that app.

Open With context menu in Windows 11

Another way to change a default app is to right-click on a file in File Explorer, click Open With (which is more conveniently and consistently the second choice in Windows 11's context menu), and then pick the Choose another app option. Doing so opens up the same app selection box as in the first process, except with a checkbox to "Always use this app to open [extension] files." After that, just check the box and hit OK.

The Easier Way: At Installation

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


The first time you run it on Windows 11, the Firefox web browser asks you whether you want it to be your default web 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 my testing, choosing the option at startup or the one from the banner both did the job with zero fuss.

Google surprisingly has not implemented an easy way to make Chrome the default browser on Windows 11. That browser's Make default option requires you to go into the Settings as described earlier and change each file type one at a time.

Make Firefox primary browser in Windows 11

VLC Media Player

VLC is an old-school, open-source application that’s famous for being able to play just about any media file. Choosing to make VLC the default media player at installation sets it as such for over 70 file types. Unfortunately, several important file types remained the purview of the Movies & TV and Groove music apps. 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.

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