Why won't my file open?

When you click on a Word document, if all goes according to plan, Microsoft Word or a Word-compatible program opens and displays your file. In order to open any file, Windows needs to know what program is associated with that type of file. Usually this works so well that we don’t even have to think about it. But sometimes file associations get changed when we uninstall a program, by malicious software, or simply by mistake. You can fix that!


Try the normal way first

The first thing to do is make sure your computer isn’t infected. Assuming your computer is malware-free, make sure you have installed the right program for your file. Usually there is a way from within a program to set it as the default for certain file types. Always try that first.

You can do it from within Windows

If you have the right program and it still doesn’t know it’s the boss of your file, you can follow the instructions here for Windows 8: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/choose-programs-windows-uses-default , here for Windows 7: http://windows.microsoft.com/is-IS/windows7/Change-which-programs-Windows-uses-by-default, here for XP: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/307859 and here for Vista, the forgotten Operating System: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-vista/Change-which-programs-Windows-uses-by-default.

Try these utilities instead

If your eyes are already glazing over, don’t worry. There are three little utilities that will do the job in less time than it takes to read all that. Before you use any of these utilities, make sure you’ve created a System Restore point, so if you make a mistake you can reverse the process.

Default Programs Editor, available here: http://defaultprogramseditor.com/, makes it pretty easy to fix, change, and delete file associations in Vista and Windows 7. I have used it many times, but I don’t know if it works with XP or Windows 8.

Unassoc.zip is a helpful little utility with a workman-like interface. Its mission in life is to make it easy to unassociate a file type in Win7, Win8, or Vista. You get to start over. Download the utility from The Windows Club website, here: http://www.thewindowsclub.com/how-to-dissociate-file-types-in-windows-7-and-vista.

File Association Fixer, also from The Windows Club, is available here: http://www.thewindowsclub.com/file-association-fixer-for-windows-7-vista-released. It will detect whether you’re running Windows 7, Windows 8, or Vista and offer you the appropriate fixes. I’ve used the first two utilities with much success. I haven’t tried the third. All three utilities are free.

If the problem is with email…

Not a week goes by that I don’t hear from someone that clicking on a link in email doesn’t open up a web page. This most likely happened when you uninstalled a browser like Chrome, and didn’t set another browser as the default. It’s easy to fix.

If you want those links to open in Internet Explorer again:

  • Close all browsers
  • Close your email program
  • Click on Start
  • Click on Default Programs
  • Click on Set your default programs
  • Click on Internet Explorer on the left side
  • Click on Set this program as default on the right side
  • OK your way out

Next time you click on a link in your email, the page should open in Internet Explorer. Follow the same procedure if you want links to open in Firefox or Chrome, except choose the one you want, not Internet Explorer! If you do that before you uninstall another browser, you’ll likely avoid the “broken link” problem in the first place.


Do you need help with your computer? I'm here to help you and your home or business computer get along!

Cate Eales runs Computer Care Kelowna (http://computercarekelowna.com/) a mobile service helping home users and businesses get along with their computers. To arrange an appointment phone her at 250-764-7043. Cate also welcomes your comments and suggestions. Send email to [email protected].

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About the Author

The Technology Shaman, Cate Eales, has been helping people make online computing safe, accessible, and fun for over 30 years.

Cate lives in Kelowna with her husband, Eric. She owns and operates Computer Care Kelowna, a mobile computer business providing on-site service for home and small business customers.

Cate is here to help you and your home or business computer get along.

E-mail Cate at [email protected] with comments, suggestions, or questions.

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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