Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

By accident or design the wrong program can sometimes be the default for some file types. I'll show you how to pick the right program and make it stick.

I downloaded a pdf e-book and selected windows media player by accident. All my downloads go there and windows media player can't open it there. What do I do to correct this problem?

This is actually pretty common. Not just for PDFs, but for any file type where either you've selected the wrong program by mistake, some other program has been installed that "takes over" a particular file type you don't want it to, or just the generic "This file does not have a program associated with it" error when there's no program to open it at all.

Selecting the correct program to open your .PDFs, .MP3s or .whatever files is actually pretty simple, just not obvious.

I'll show you how.

I'm guessing you're seeing something like this:

Windows Media Player attempting to open a PDF file

Naturally, we'll say no, since Windows Media Player clearly wouldn't know what to do with a PDF document.

To fix it, first locate the file you want to open in Windows Explorer:

PDF file being displayed in Windows Explorer

Right click on the file and click on Open with...

PDF open in Windows Explorer, with Open with... showing

In the resulting dialog, you may find the program you want right at the top of the list. (Don't click it yet!)

Open with dialog

If you do see the program you want to use listed (in this case I want FoxIt Reader to open my PDFs), then make sure that "Always use this program to open this kind of file" is checked.

After ensuring that option is checked, double click on the program to use (again, FoxIt Reader in my example above). Two things will happen:

  • The file association for "pdf" files will be changed to use FoxIt henceforth.

  • The file you've double clicked is opened by the program you've selected.

Two birds, one stone.

If the program you need to use to open the file is not listed in the Open with... dialog above, and you know it's installed on your machine, click on the browse button to find the program manually.

Open with... browse for file dialog

In the example above I've navigated to:

C:\Program Files (x86)\Foxit Software\Foxit Reader

This is the location where Foxit Reader is installed, and I would choose "Foxit Reader.exe" as the program to be used. Naturally what location or program you would select depends on what file type you're dealing with and what programs you have available on your machine to open that file type.

This applies to all kinds of mis-associated or un-associated files and the programs that should be used to open them as well.

Article C4326 - May 28, 2010 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Nancy Clinton-Ross
May 29, 2010 1:38 AM

I'm going to seem so nick picky, but I thought you might want to know that you said Firefox when it's obvious you meant Foxit. Not a big thing, but I used to write for a newspaper and had to edit my own stuff and now it's second nature to edit everything I read...I drive myself crazy! lol
Also, wanted to let you know that you have been a huge help to me more times than I can say. Thank you for your clear, totally understandable answers to our questions. I was able to recommend you to a friend today and he has become a big fan too!
Thanks again,

"The file association for "pdf" files will be changed to use FireFox henceforth."

Mark Jacobs
May 30, 2010 4:14 AM

I'm glad you mentioned Foxit as the correct program to open pdf files. #1 It's much faster than A-dopey Reader and #2 since it now blocks the running of scripts, it's much safer. I used have A-dopey installed since at one time there was a rare pdf that didn't open properly in Foxit but I haven't needed A-dopey Reader in years. Steven Jobs has a point, A-dopey products somehow have been some of the biggest openings in the wall of Troy.

June 1, 2010 11:26 AM

this sounds very good for this issue but I usual get nothing to give me a idea what the file is called to look for the program to open it . and sometihng like a program called file helper was of no help LOL what other programs are out there that you can install that will tell me more detail

Kirti Charan
June 1, 2010 12:20 PM

Install free Adobe Reader. This program automatically reads .pdf files.

Linde Nobre
June 2, 2010 4:13 AM

To Darlene: if you have a file with an unknown extension, just google it, you will find out easily which is the right programm for opening it. Then of course you will have to get the programm somehow and follow the steps Leo described. Another possibility (not for pdf) may be trying to import it into some other programm, but that doesn't work for many extensions.

June 6, 2010 7:40 PM

To extend your answer, there is another feature I like to take advantage of. IE and FF default to downloading files to a specific location. I prefer to set it to prompt me asking where I want the files saved. EG in FF it is Tools menu / Options option / General tab / turn on "Always ask me where to save" option. I have my documents stored in topic specific folders, so I always navigate to the correct folder before downloading.

June 7, 2010 6:28 PM

Leo, thanks for mentioning something other than Adobe Reader. You are the first high-profile person I have seen do that. Adobe still saturates the web, as it is used by all gov't agencies and most big businesses...and it is not the best one out there. It is Bloatware. I use Sumatra because it is portable and very light. I also have Portable Foxit on a thumbdrive for .pdfs with links.

Jimmy Durchslag
March 8, 2011 11:41 AM

Thanks for the info. I had a default to roxio media player for all audio files (Windows XP) and I prefer Windows Media Player. I tried the "open with" and a short list came up with Windows Media Player at the top. You reminded me that I should not have selected it from the short list, but instead use "choose program" to select the desired associated program. (WMD player still near the top of the list.) Then I could access the "always use the selected program to open this kind of file" check box.

August 22, 2012 12:28 PM

THank you Leo i followed your directions and it was an instant helper. you are a very knowledgable person...

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