Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

File and software associations

When you double-click a file that ends in “.doc” or “.docx” you expect Microsoft Word to start, then the file to open. Do you ever wonder why that is?

In a nutshell, your computer reads the filename extension when you open the file. It then starts the software associated with that file type by default. Your computer keeps a list of associations between file types and software used to open them, a list that gets added to each time you install software on your computer that is meant to create or otherwise handle files.

You aren’t obliged to use the default, though. Instead of double-clicking a file, try right-clicking it instead. You’ll get an “Open” option in the menu that appears, but you will also find an “Open With” option in that menu. Open it and you’ll see a number of software titles that can handle that type of file.

Consider these practical uses for this feature:

  • instead of using Word to open a .doc file, you can use “lighter” text editors that don’t take as long to open
  • when you need to edit a PDF and you usually open PDFs using the quick-to-open Adobe Reader, you can right-click the file to open it using a more feature-rich tool like Adobe Acrobat.

There’s a lot more to this tool on both Windows and Mac computers. Check out the following video for tips, especially from the 2:00 mark on. While it does show a Mac environment, much of what is explained works in Windows as well.