An easy guide to associating files with Windows programs

Question: This is an MPEG I sent to our friend for his birthday and CCed my husband, but he can’t read it. He has a Dell laptop and Windows 98. Oh great genius, how does one associate a program with a file type in Windows 98? – D.S.

Answer: The reader sent along a highly amusing MPEG movie file created with a digital video camera. It’s of her and her husband singing happy birthday for their friend. Very funny. The reason her husband couldn’t see the file on his computer was because he hadn’t associated the .MPG file type with a program to run it.

Under Windows, you have to tell the operating system which program to use on each file type. Otherwise, it may not know what program to use to open a new file. Windows, as we all know, isn’t that bright.

The quick answer to this query can be found in the Windows 98 Help area. Just click the Start button, then Help. In the box that opens, click the Index tab and type associating files and click the Display button twice. The following instructions appear:

  1. In My Computer or Windows Explorer, on the View menu, click Folder Options.
  2. Click the File Types tab.
  3. In the list of file types, click the one you want to change.
  4. Click Edit.
  5. In Actions, click Open.
  6. Click Edit.
  7. In Application used to perform action, enter the program you want to use to open files that have this extension, and then click OK.

Note: The settings for selected file types are shown in File type details.

I’ve outlined this strategy before, but I’ve since come across four programs that allow you to adapt file associations without mucking with the above strategy, which is not very intuitive. The program mentioned below can be downloaded straight from the Web, but requires a fee if you decide to continue usingthem.


SmartOpen is a utility that allows several programs to be associated with a particular file extension. Let’s say you used it to tell Windows what to do when it encounters a .TXT file. SmartOpen prompts you with a list of word processing programs that you have specified every time you right-click on a text file. It also allows you to define what to do with individual files. For example, you could tell it to always open a file named MY-DARKEST-SECRETS.TXT with Windows Notepad, but open YOUR-DARKEST-SECRETS.TXT with Microsoft Word. An extra cool feature allows you to use wildcard characters in file names. The down side is that it takes some reading to get it to work properly. Read the tutorial section in the help file — it pays off.

The software’s Portugal-based author Alex Vallat asks for a US$15 registration fee if you continue to use the program. Instructions on how to pay for the software on-line are in the help file that comes with the program.