Changing RTF away from Word

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How can you change the default program for .RTF documents away from Word and make it stick?

We’ve talked about the virus security risk of Rich Text Format .RTF files which even Microsoft has, at times, suggested blocking.

Despite that, .RTF files are associated to Word during the Office installation.  The modern installer doesn’t give you any choices for associating files types with Office.

The most common RTF alternative is Wordpad, because it comes with Windows.  You can use this help to change the default to WordPad or whatever other program you like.

Change the RTF association

You can change the default program fairly easily.  For Windows 10, the simple way is to find a .rtf file, right-click and choose ‘Open with …’ then ‘Choose another app’ then ‘More apps’ to scroll down the list.    Choose ‘WordPad’ (or whatever alternative program you like) and check the ‘Always use this app to open .rtf files’ option.

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In earlier versions of Windows, it’s virtually the same. The menus have altered look but the fundamentals haven’t changed for years.

RTF files will get a different icon in Explorer.

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You can choose other programs to open an RTF from the right-click, Open with … menu

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A different way of getting the same result is going to Control Panel | Default Programs | Set Associations:

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Scroll down to and select the .rtf line then choose Change program …  from there the menus are the same as above.

The Set Associations dialog has some advantages. You don’t need to find an existing file of the specific type.  The three columns are sortable (click the headings) so click in the ‘Current Default’ heading to see all the programs grouped together.  Here’s all the Excel defaults together:

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Windows 10 Settings (the new interface) has another version of the same thing at System | Default Apps | Choose default apps by file type.  However this ‘modern’ variation has numerous flaws.

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The list is very long (because of the large spacings) and there’s no way to re-sort the list.  Click/tap on the program to change the default and you’ll another omission.

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There is no option to choose other installed programs.  You’re offered a link to the Windows Store where Microsoft hopes to sell you some more stuff.

Our advice is to stick with the more flexible Control Panel | Default Programs | Set Associations option.

When you next start Word, it will notice that there’s been a change in one of its defaults and warn you.

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Check the box “Don’t show this message again” then choose ‘No’ to get on with your work.

Of course, you’ve just changed the default program for opening .rtf files.  You still have the choice to open a .rtf file from the File | Open command in Word.

Making it stick

If you find that Office or some other program is changing your preferred defaults, there was a way to quickly reapply your preferences.

Back in Windows 7 and before, changing default programs / file associations in the Registry was relatively easy.  Windows 8 changed that and now the Registry is more complicated and there are ‘hashes’ in place to stop unauthorized tampering with the settings. That stopped old tricks where you could apply/reapply file associations quickly to the registry settings from a .reg file.

Here’s a way to make a ‘one click’ setting change without messing about in the dialog boxes.. WARNING: This should work (though the results from ftype aren’t always what’s expected because of the complications of Windows file associations) so use at your own risk and have a backup.

There are two, little known, command line tools  Assoc and Ftype.

Assoc – displays or sets a file extension to a file type.  File Type is set in Windows so that different file extensions can be linked to the same manner of file.  For example  .htm and .html are both type  htmlfile

Ftype – displays or sets the default program for a particular file type (note – the type not file extension).

To see this in action, open a command prompt with Administrator access:

Run the command   assoc .rtf to see the file type, which should be   .rtf=Word.RTF.8 which confirms the file type (Word.RTF.8).

Then the command  ftype word.rtf.8 to see what program and parameters are linked to that file type.  Most likely something like:

word.rtf.8="C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Root\Office16\WINWORD.EXE" /n "%1" /o "%u"

Which confirms what we know, that .RTF files are opened by Microsoft Word.  We suggest copying this setting to somewhere safe in case there’s a problem and you want to revert to the original setting.

To change that default, run this command, but change to suit your setup.  (Yes, after all these years, there is still a ‘NT’ folder created by Microsoft.)

ftype word.rtf.8="c:\Program Files\Windows NT\Accessories\wordpad.exe" "%1"

Here’s how that looks in the CMD window.

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To quickly apply / reapply the .RTF default to Wordpad, make a one line .BAT file with the last of the Ftype commands above.  Then you can click on it (with Administrator privileges) to change or confirm the setting at any time.

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