Windows has a great feature for handling unknown files — or even files that it does recognize.
When you right-click on the file, you can pick Open. If Windows has a program associated with that the file’s filename extension (e.g., .xlsx), it will open the appropriate program (e.g., Excel) and then open the file in the program.
But, if it doesn’t have an associated program for a file, you can still open the file in several ways.
First, if you know the program you want to use, you can open the program first, and then use it’s internal functions (usually File, Open) to open the data file.
Second, you often can drag the data file onto the program icon, assuming you can see both at the same time.
The neat option is to right-click on the data file and select Open With… The resulting dialog box looks very different in Windows 8 versus the earlier versions of Windows, but the same basic functions are there.
Windows will open a dialog box and allow you to pick among the programs that it knows will open that type of file. There’s even a button (or link, in the case of Windows 8) to browse for the program you want to use, if it’s not one of the programs that Windows offers.
Some programs can open a number of different types of files, but only "register" their preferred types in Windows.
All is well and good with this last approach — except that there is one ugly trap that is set by default.
There’s an option box on the dialog box that basically says "Always use this program to open this type of file." The trap is that the box is already checked!
Sounds good, doesn’t it? Yes, and it is, most of the time. You can always uncheck it, so you’re only using the specified program this one time. That’s safest when you’re not sure that this is the right program.
You can always change it again, later. Can’t you? Yea? Well, the answer is probably…
If you’ve tried to open a real data file, that’s OK.
But, if you tried to open a Shortcut (filename extension is .lnk), rather than the actual file, and left the box checked? Then, you’ve just reset all the Shortcuts so that Windows thinks they are no longer shortcuts, but data files for a specific program.
The real issue s that there is no "undo" or a "program" to set as its default handler. It’s a more complicated group fo settings in the Windows Registry.
I had to solve that one recently after one of my wife’s friends tried to Open a shortcut on her Windows Desktop. For some reason, that shortcut wasn’t opening the correct file.
So, she tried to use the Open With option to open the file in Microsoft Word. Unfortunately, the Shortcut was the file that was set to open, not the actual data file.
She didn’t spot the checkbox that said "Always use the selected program to open this kind of file." After using the Open With… option, all of the shortcuts tried to open as data files in Word.
The problems weren’t just on the Desktop, though. In the Start Menu, the actual entries (as opposed to the folders) are actually Shortcuts — so none of them worked.
Strangely, you could still get to Word, Excel and Internet Explorer via their data file shortcuts — because Microsoft doesn’t create their shortcuts in the same manner.
After trying a bunch of things that didn’t solve it for one reason or another, including the ASSOC command and System Restore, I had to do some searching on Google for the real solution.
I found a very helpful tutorial and a .reg Registry patch on the Windows Seven Forums. The article was Windows 7: Default File Type Associations – Restore (www.sevenforums.com/tutorials/19449-default-file-type-associations-restore.html).
I was able to download a specific registry patch to restore the .lnk filetype extension. The page also included detailed step-by-step instructions.
It worked, but not completely — the icons didn’t revert to their standard icons — until I rebooted. At that point, all was well with the world.