How-To Geek

How To Make Images, Music, Video, and PDF Files Open On The Desktop in Windows 8


Windows 8 opens many types of files in the Windows 8 interface formerly known as Metro by default. If you’re at the desktop and double-click many types of media files, you’ll see a full-screen media viewer.

You can easily prevent these media files from opening in the full-screen Windows 8 apps when you double-click them. All you have to do is change your default programs.

Set Desktop Applications As Your Default Programs

You can change these settings from the Default Programs window. To open it, press the Windows key, type Default, and press Enter.


Click the Set your default programs link in the window that appears.


Scroll down in the list, select the Windows Photo Viewer, and click the Set this program as default option. This will make photos and other image files open in the Windows Photo Viewer application on your desktop. Windows won’t use the full-screen Photos app anymore.


Next, select the Windows Media Player application and click Set this program as default. This will make music and video files open in Windows Media Player on the desktop, not in the full-screen Music and Videos apps.


PDF documents are the last type of file that will open in full-screen mode by default. PDFs open in Reader, Microsoft’s included PDF-viewing application, by default. Unfortunately, Microsoft hasn’t included a desktop application that can read PDFs. You’ll need to download an alternative PDF reader such as Sumatra PDF,  PDF-XChange Viewer, or even Adobe Reader.

After installing another PDF reader, you can select it when opening a PDF file to make it your default PDF viewer.


While we’ve covered setting Windows Photo Viewer and Windows Media Player as the default applications here, you can also install and use other applications – such as VLC for media files or IrfanView for images — and set them as your default application, just as you could on earlier versions of Windows.

(However, if you’re using Windows RT on an ARM device, you won’t be able to install any third-party desktop applications.)

Changing Individual File Associations

To make only a specific file type open in a desktop application, you can right-click a file of that type in Windows Explorer, point to Open with, and select Choose default program. This will only affect the selected file extension – for example, if you set PNG images to always open in Windows Photo Viewer, JPEG images will still open in the Photos app.


Note that, if you’re using an application in the new Windows 8 user interface and you open a file of one of these types, it will now open in the your selected desktop application. Windows 8’s new interface and the desktop share the same file associations, so you can’t have separate file associations for each environment.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 10/27/12

Comments (6)

  1. Con Fused

    It seems like all I see about Windows 8 is ways to change this and that so Windows 8 can be used in an ordinary and productive way. I’ve tried Windows 8 at home and at a store and everyone keeps showing me key strokes to make it look like Windows 7.

    Actually it’s still Windows with the control panel, and everything just in a different way. I don’t see what the big deal is, except it’s just another way for Microsoft to sell me something new that does the same thing I already have.

  2. Marlena Petrov

    Yes, does the same thing that we already have, harder *side eyes MS*

  3. cityboy3

    All try are doing is just their job to show everyone how to change things but I don’t see were win 8 is all that difficult.Myself I like change and I bought win.8 and like it,i will keep it on my personal laptop but I’ll keep win.7 on my work laptop and that’s only until they get updates on some of my programs to run on win.8 and I will change.

  4. Karen1958

    But will 3rd party apps (I use PDF-XChange Viewer now on Win 7) still even work on Win 8? I want to keep up with the times instead of just being an old fart who refuses to change, but I like and rely on all my (mostly free) 3rd party apps.

  5. Redd

    Rather than upgrading to Windows 8 and turning it into Windows 7, why not just stay on Win7/Vista/XP? I see no reason to upgrade to the new Windows just to customize it to behave like the one you’re currently using (or reason to upgrade at all; Win7 already does everything I need and I don’t want the stupid Metro UI or smartphone-style apps on my PC).

  6. Citrus Rain

    This is extremely useful even if you’re not trying to make it be what you’re used to.

    My computer CANNOT open files in the metro photo viewer because the max resolution for my screen is not high enough for any metro apps to be allowed to launch. Yet it tries to anyways. So I double click a file on the desktop and I just get a big banner spanning the center of my screen complaining that I need to change my resolution for it to work. It’s really annoying.

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