How To Decide What Program To Use
To Open An Unknown File Type
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Who Should Read This Tutorial:
Windows Users

One of the most confusing issues when it comes to programs occurs when you download or someone sends you a file that won't open. This happens when the file extension is a type not associated with any program on your computer. Generally, when you install a new program - let's say Adobe Photo - as the program installs it will associate certain files with it. In this case, all types of photo files (JPEG, GIF, BMP, etc.) would be associated with Adobe Photo. Thus, whenever you click to open such a file, Adobe Photo would open and allow you to view the file. Sometimes, however, you may receive a file that is not associated with any program on your computer. ave you ever tried to open a file and had a window pop up asking you what program to use to open the file?  This happens when your computer comes across a file which was created in a program you don't have on the computer; or, you have the program but it's not assigned to that type of file.

For instance, if someone sends you the file "userpasswords.pps" (To try this, right click on the file name link and save to your computer - using "save target as" or some other similar option.  Then, try to open it.) but your computer doesn't have the PowerPoint program installed (or a PowerPoint viewer that is available), then the computer wouldn't know how to open the file. Generally, if you tried to open the file, you'd get a screen similar to this:

When you get this window, you have two options: 1) you can let Windows search on the Internet to tell you what program to use; or, 2) you can select the program from a list.  If you recognize the file type, then you should choose option 2.

So, in our example, if someone sent you the "userpasswords.pps" but you couldn't open it, then you would need a PowerPoint program to open it.  Some companies offer free "reader" programs which allow you to read a file but not change it.  This is true with Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.  In other cases, you may need to purchase a program to open the file you're trying to access.  In this case, if the program is expensive, it might be easier to ask whomever sent you the file to send it in another format - one in a program you already have on your computer.

Overall, I would say that if a file causes the "open with" screen to appear, you most likely do not have the proper program on your computer. There are exceptions of course. For instance, if you have a file ending in the extension .dat, that file may not be associated with a program on your computer. However, most .dat files can be viewed in Windows Notepad. So, from the window above, you would choose to open the file in Notepad.

Please feel free to e-mail me ( about any file you are unable to open once you have searched online for the proper program.