How to make Windows 8 Metro open files on the desktop


July 25, 2013

Tired of Windows 8 opening your files in metro-style apps? Here's how to make them open in desktop apps instead

Tired of Windows 8 opening your files in metro-style apps? Here's how to make them open in desktop apps instead

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One of the more annoying behaviors in Windows 8 and 8.1 is that all of your files are set to open in native Metro-style apps. For instance, if you're working on the desktop and view a picture or PDF, it opens full screen in the associated app. If you're working on a traditional computer without a touchscreen, this is frustrating to say the least. Especially if you're on a laptop with a single screen. Here's how to take control of your Windows 8 system and make your files open in the desktop programs you want them to.

Change default program file associations

Note: Here I am using the Window 8.1 preview but the process is virtually identical in Windows 8.

From the Windows start screen type: default programs and select the Default Programs icon under results.

The Default Programs windows will open on the desktop. Here you have a couple of ways to change the default programs that open your files. The easiest is to click "Set your default programs."

Now select the program you want to set as your default for your files. Here I'm selecting Windows Photo Viewer because I can't stand it when I want to view an image and the Photo app opens up. This way it will open on the desktop like it used to.

If you want to customize which files a program opens, choose the second option "Choose defaults for this program." That allows you to select each individual file type you want the program to open. Just scroll through the list and uncheck the file types you don't want the program to open. Remember to save your changes when you're done.

Setting up file associations can take a while, but once you have it set up, you're good to go. If you want to temporarily open a file in another program, simply right-click it, and select the program or app from the context menu.

Summing Up

Changing these file associations allows you to stay in the desktop more like you're used to and lets you to get things done faster. When you're a deadline, you just need to get work done and not fight between the desktop and Metro environments in Windows 8.

Setting file associations is one of the first things I do when I set up a new Windows 8 system. And if you like to stay on the desktop as much as possible, you'll want to change these associations too. Of course, in Windows RT, you can't run desktop apps, but you can use the same procedure to change the metro-style apps your files open in.

About the Author
Brian Burgess Brian Burgess resides in Minnesota. A technology enthusiast his entire life, he worked in IT for 10 years before pursuing his passion for writing. In addition to contributing to Gizmag, he’s the Editor in Chief at and has written for other notable tech sites Byte, InformationWeek, and How-To Geek. Away from the keyboard, you're likely to find him listening to heavy metal, playing guitar, or watching Star Trek. All articles by Brian Burgess

I find that extremely helpful. I have a laptop computer with Win 8 without a touchscreen. I will pass this tip on to others.


The fact that I have to do this on every Windows 8 PC is rather insulting. No thanks I will stay on Windows 7 where installing the programs I want on my PC makes them default automatically. For every stupidity in Windows 8, this takes the cake.


Be nice if there was a way to batch all this.


The best way to solve all those stupid design mistakes is never to use Win 8 in metro state.


Thanks Brian, great info to know.

Jose Munoz-Nieves

If you are using W8 on a laptop or desktop w/o touch, there is really little reason to use Metro at all. What I do for new installs is just uninstall all the Metro apps then install Classic Shell. Takes only a few min and gives you the best of W7 and all the nice features outside of Metro and touch of W8.

Rann Xeroxx

classic shell is nice... but I have found that MS doesn't support it meaning does not update this program... and I had many system erros with all the start programs....

windows 8.1 offers all you need . just do the simple methos stated above along with setting to boot to desktop with the windows 8.1 feature and walla.

besides why would you need a start menu with the x menu... right click the bot left corner of desktop and a list of almost all commands pop up... and run can open anything! you have search and whatever you need... I mean command prompt, run, and control panel can get you anywhere you ever need...

windows 8 boots up faster than windows version ive ever used. why knock it its a simple fix. it is essentially the same as 7. but with a few extra features.

I think people just fear change and don't accept learning new great things.

Cameron Callaway

I've installed 2 or 3 desktop photo viewers and the last one I installed is the default program the same as Windows 7. So if I want to change it back I have to do the same thing in Windows as I do in Windows 8. I don't mind that a Metro PDF viewer is the default since I'm only viewing a document. But the apps in which I actually have to modify are all defaulting to desktop apps that are installed. But there is an easy solution to this Metro default versus desktop. You have to install the Metro apps so If you don't want a app to be the default there is no need to install it. Easy solution. It's like the the whole hangup people have with Windows 8/8.1. If you don't want Metro don't use it as you can ignore it completely. I like to mix it up like if your using an app to do 1 thing Metro apps are actually easier. Example NFL Sunday ticket. I login select the game I want. Getting to Sunday Ticket on the desk means using a Browser and logging into the site then finding the NFL Sunday ticket. Metro apps are basically templates over a web browser. I have a laptop that is touch using Windows and a laptop with non-touch. I use touch just as much on the non touch laptop and I do the touch. The Mouse WORKS.

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