When Windows File Associations Go Awry

You’re sitting in front of your computer and you’re bored. You’ve been to all your favourite websites, you’ve done the online crossword and a couple of games of Sudoku but you still have time to waste, so you decide to mess around with Windows for a while. You’re clicking buttons, opening dialog boxes and just generally trying to educate yourself on the finer points of the operating system.

Then you remember that you’re actually supposed to be responding to an urgent email you received about 6 hours ago. You try to open the mail, and instead of launching your email client it opens in your text editor instead. The email is no longer readable and is just gibberish. At the back of your mind, you have a hazy memory of doing something with an email saved on your desktop. You can’t remember exactly what you did, but you know it was one of those “A-ha, that’s funny” moments. For the life of you, though, you can’t remember what exactly you did.

Chances are that you’ve changed the program associated with the file extension for your email. Unlike the various flavours of Linux and Unix, Windows uses file extensions to decide what type of file it is dealing with. A file ending in .exe is an executable, ending in .txt and it’s a text file, ending in .doc and it’s a Word document, and so on. You can if you wish change these associations, and if you do this inadvertently you will probably end up with problems.

To change the association, you first of all need to locate one of the files showing the problem.

  • Then hold down the shift key and right click on the file. On the context menu, you should see an “Open with…” sub-menu.
  • On this sub-menu you’ll see a “Choose Program” option.
  • Click on this and you’ll be presented with a dialog box displaying list of programs that you can use to open the file.
  • Select the correct program from the list. If you cannot find your program listed, then click the “Browse” button to locate the program file.
  • Directly under the list of programs is a “Always use the selected program to open this kind of file” tick box. Place a tick in the box and click “Ok”.

Now any file with the same extension as the file you right clicked on will open in this new program.