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Adding, Removing, and Managing Programs in Windows 7

Setting Default Programs, File Type Associations, and AutoPlay Options

Most of the programs you use in Windows are associated with particular file types and protocols. These associations are what enable you, for example, to double-click a Windows Media Audio (.wma) file in Windows Explorer and have your favorite audio program play the file; or click an internet hyperlink in a document or e-mail message and have your favorite web browser take you to the appropriate website. The Windows setup program establishes many of these associations for you when the operating system is installed. The setup programs for various applications also create associations with the file types those programs can use. (Sometimes such programs, when installed, change existing file-type associations; generally, but not invariably, they ask for your permission before doing this.)

But regardless of how the associations between programs and file types and protocols are currently set, Windows makes it easy for you to see and modify the settings. You can inspect and alter current defaults by clicking Default Programs, on the right side of the Start menu, or opening Control Panel, clicking Programs, and then clicking Default Programs. Either way, you arrive at the section of Control Panel shown in Figure 5-10.

Figure 5-10

Figure 5-10 The designers of Windows 7 considered this aspect of Control Panel to be so important that they gave it its own Start menu entry.

Setting Default Programs

The first item on this menu, Set Your Default Programs, approaches the issue of associations from the standpoint of particular vital applications. You undoubtedly have a good many other applications in addition to these (and you might not have all of these), but the programs listed here are all capable of handling multiple file types and protocols. This list gives you a way to assign programs to all the items they can handle—should you choose to do that. (You can also assign programs to a subset of their possible associations.)

To illustrate how this works, we’ll select Windows Live Mail in the dialog box shown in Figure 5-11.

Figure 5-11

Figure 5-11 The Set Your Default Programs dialog box lets you approach associations from the standpoint of certain vital applications—such as your web browser(s) and e-mail client(s).

As Figure 5-12 shows, the dialog box responds by indicating that Windows Live Mail currently is the default program for one of the file types or protocols it is capable of handling.

To see which defaults Windows Live Mail currently “owns” (and modify particular ones if you want), click Choose Defaults For This Program. The dialog box then lists file extensions and protocols that are possibilities for Windows Live Mail. (See Figure 5-13.)

If you wanted to make Windows Live Mail the default program for other extensions or protocols, you could select the check boxes associated with these protocols and then click Save. To make Windows Live Mail the default for everything, you could select the Select All check box and click Save. Alternatively, return to the dialog box shown in Figure 5-12 and click Set This Program As Default.

Figure 5-12

Figure 5-12 In this example, Windows Live Mail is set as the default handler for one of the four protocols it is capable of handling.

Figure 5-13

Figure 5-13 Windows Live Mail “owns” the .eml extension; the rest of the file types and protocols that Windows Live Mail is capable of handling belong to Microsoft Office Outlook.

Changing File Type Associations

The second item on the menu shown in Figure 5-10 approaches the matter of file-to-program associations from the perspective of the file type. Figure 5-14 shows a list of file types comparable to what you would see if you clicked this menu item.

The file-type list is alphabetized by extension. For each extension, the list shows a description of the file and the program that is currently set as the default application for that file type. So, for example, in Figure 5-14, we see that the extension .bmp represents bitmap image files, and that Windows Photo Viewer is the program currently associated with such files. In other words, double-clicking a .bmp file in Windows Explorer, as things now stand, will open that file in Windows Photo Viewer.

Figure 5-14

Figure 5-14 The list of file extensions shown in this dialog box lets you change the program or programs associated with individual file types.

To change the default, click Change Program. As Figure 5-15 shows, the Open With dialog box that appears has a section called Recommended Programs and a section called Other Programs. The Recommended Programs section includes the current default (Windows Photo Viewer) and other programs that are registered as being capable of opening files of the current type (bitmap images, in this case). The dialog box also includes an Always Use The Selected Program To Open This Kind Of File check box, which is grayed out and unavailable. The reason the check box is unavailable is that Windows assumes that because you have arrived in the Open With dialog box by way of the Default Programs command (on the Start menu or in Control Panel), the only business you have here is to change the program that’s always used to open the selected file type. (As we’ll see in a moment, there’s another way to get to this dialog box.)

The Other Programs section of this dialog box will at first appear unpopulated. To make its contents visible, click the little arrow at the end of the dividing line between the Recommended Programs section and the Other Programs section. (We’ve already done that in Figure 5-15.)

Figure 5-15

Figure 5-15 To change the default program for a file type, make your selection in the Recommended Programs section of this dialog box, and then click OK.

Be careful. The programs listed in Other Programs are simply commonplace applications installed on your system. They are almost guaranteed to be bad choices for the selected file type. If you select one of these and click OK, it will become the default program for the current file type, no matter how unsuitable it might be. You can fix that easily enough, by returning to the Open With dialog box. But the spurned program will make a nuisance of itself by remaining in the Recommended Programs section. If, for example, you’re curious about how a bitmap image might look when rendered by Notepad, you might be tempted to make Notepad, temporarily, the default application for that file type. If you do this, Notepad will become one of the recommended programs for opening bitmap files—even though you’ll probably never want to use it again for that purpose (see Figure 5-16).

Figure 5-16

Figure 5-16 If you make a program the default application for a file type and then change your mind, that program will remain in the Recommended Programs section of the dialog box.

Changing the Default Application from Windows Explorer

If you right-click a file in Windows Explorer and choose Open With from the shortcut menu, the programs that appear in the submenu are those that appear in the file type’s Recommended Programs list, as shown in Figure 5-15. In Figure 5-17, for example, we’ve right-clicked a .bmp file in Windows Explorer and chosen Open With, and we’re presented with Paint, Windows Live Photo Gallery, Windows Media Center, and Windows Photo Viewer—the same four programs that appear in the Recommended Programs section of Figure 5-15.

Figure 5-17

Figure 5-17 The options that appear when you right-click a file in Windows Explorer and choose Open With are those that appear in the file type’s Recommended Programs list in Control Panel.

Notice that the programs are listed alphabetically, and the menu does not indicate which one is the current default. The assumption is that if you’ve gone to the trouble of choosing Open With, it’s because you want, this time, to open the file in a nondefault program.

You can use this Open With menu either to open the selected file one time in a nondefault application or to change the default. To do the latter, click Choose Default Program from the menu shown in Figure 5-17. The Open With dialog box that appears will be just like the one shown in Figure 5-15, with one major exception: the Always Use The Selected Program To Open This Kind Of File check box will be available. Note that it will be available and selected. If you don’t want to make a change to the default (if you’re just looking around or curious about what might show up in the Other Programs section of the dialog box), be sure to clear the check box before you select a program and click OK. (If you do unintentionally reset the default, you can always return to this Open With dialog box and fix the problem.)

Setting Program Access and Computer Defaults

The dialog box that appears when you choose Default Programs on the Start menu and click Set Program Access And Computer Defaults (shown in Figure 5-18) became a fixture of Windows at the time of Windows XP Service Pack 1. It was introduced to the operating system as a settlement condition in an antitrust suit brought by the United States Department of Justice against Microsoft. It is designed to give Windows users the option to remove access to a number of Microsoft programs that were previously tightly integrated into Windows.

Figure 5-18

Figure 5-18 You can use this dialog box to remove certain Microsoft programs from menus in Windows.

In the Set Program Access And Computer Defaults dialog box, the default selection on all newly installed systems is Custom. This essentially means that you are willing to make your own decisions about what Microsoft middleware programs are visible and accessible on your system. This works for most users. If you want to remove the evidence of a particular Microsoft item, such as Internet Explorer, clear the Enable Access To This Program check box beside the program’s name. Note that this action does not uninstall the program; it merely removes the program from the Start menu, desktop, and other locations. To abjure all Microsoft middleware, select the Non-Microsoft option. If you change your mind and want the Microsoft tools back, return to the dialog box and click Microsoft Windows or Custom.

Turning Windows Features On or Off

If you want to disable certain default Windows features, you can use the Set Program Access And Computer Defaults dialog box just shown. A simpler, more direct, and more versatile way to get the job done is to open Control Panel, choose Programs, and then, under Programs And Features, choose Turn Windows Features On Or Off. As Figure 5-19 shows, you can disable or re-enable many different Windows features in the Windows Features dialog box that appears. Some of the entries in this list (those with outline controls beside them) contain subentries. You can disable subentries without lopping off the whole category by opening the outline heading. To banish Spider Solitaire, for example, while leaving the other games in place, you open the Games entry and clear the Spider Solitaire check box.

Figure 5-19

Figure 5-19 The Windows Features dialog box provides a simple way to disable or re-enable selected programs.

Note that the Windows Features dialog box lists features that are not enabled by default. The Indexing Service entry, for example, refers to a service that was used in earlier versions of Windows, not the service that builds and maintains the Windows 7 search index. Unless you are sure you need a feature that is not enabled by default, it’s better to leave its setting alone.

Setting AutoPlay Options

AutoPlay is the feature that enables Windows to take appropriate action when you insert a CD or DVD into a drive. The operating system detects the kind of disc you have inserted—an audio disc, a program, or a DVD movie, for example—and takes the action that you have requested for that type of media. If you have not already made a decision about what the operating system should do, an AutoPlay dialog box appears when the disc is detected, and Windows presents a list of possible actions (including in some cases an option to do nothing at all). A check box in this dialog box lets you specify that the action you’re currently choosing should be the default for all discs of the current type. Figure 5-20 shows an example of the AutoPlay dialog box.

If you have used the AutoPlay dialog box shown in Figure 5-20 to set a default action for a particular media type, and you subsequently change your mind and want a different default, open the Start menu, click Default Programs, and then click Change AutoPlay Settings. The dialog box that appears, shown in Figure 5-21, provides a drop-down list of possible actions for each media type. You can make your selection from this list and then click Save.

Figure 5-20

Figure 5-20 The AutoPlay dialog box that appears when you first insert an optical disc of a given type lets you tell Windows how to process the disc—either this time or every time.

Figure 5-21

Figure 5-21 For each optical media type, Windows lets you choose from a list of appropriate default possibilities.