Why Do the Icons on My Desktop Keep Popping Up With the "Open With" Box?

Why Do the Icons on My Desktop Keep Popping Up With the "Open With" Box? thumbnail
File associations enable you to open desktop icons.

When your desktop icons prompt an "Open With" box every time you try to click on them, it can be an indicator of a serious problem within the computer. At other times, it may be a simple settings problem with an easy fix. Handling the problem with care will ensure that you protect the system and files.

  1. About File Associations

    • Before it opens a file, your computer must determine what program to use. PDF files open with your default PDF reader, for example, and image files will open with an image viewer. When the computer doesn't recognize a file format or doesn't associate it with a specific program, it will display the "Open With" box. If you have icons on the desktop that use unrecognized or unsupported formats, you must specify the program.

    Choosing Default Program

    • The "Open With" dialogue box will show when the settings for the default program associated with each file type is broken. Reassigning the program usually rebuilds the connection and solves the problem. On a Mac, right-click on a file and choose Get Info. In the Open With tab, the drop-down menu allows you to choose the program. To allow your computer to use the program to open all files with the same extension, hit the Change All button. On a PC, right-click on a file and select "Choose Default Program" from the Open With menu. The pop-up window will allow you to select a default program for that file type.


    • The registry is the system that allows a computer to recognize and process file associations. When your registry is corrupt, the computer won't be able to tell which programs to use to open a file even when you tell it to. Microsoft advises against editing the registry yourself. If no other troubleshooting solutions help, you may need to bring your computer in for service. Attempting to restore or edit the registry can result in errors that may require a system restore to fix.

    System Restore

    • If the settings for your computer do not repair broken file associations and you are out of warranty, sending it out for service can be expensive and time consuming. Windows machines come with the System Restore option, which allows you to restore the system files and settings using stored back-ups; your personal files will remain unaffected. To use the tool, you must choose a back-up date when the desktop files were opening with the correct programs. If the system restore does not solve the problem, a complete reinstallation of the operating system may be necessary. Before you reinstall the operating system with the restore disks, it is crucial to back up all of your files on an external hard drive or a remote server. A system restore will repair the file association problem.

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