I’ve noticed there are different versions (N,K,KN) of Windows XP Pro and Windows 7 Pro & Enterprise. What are they and what version do we get in the usual OEM Windows pre-installed on computers?
Windows N, K, and KN: Microsoft Special Editions?
If you’ve browsed the Windows Operating System selections at Amazon, Dell, or your local Wal-Mart lately, you’ve probably walked away a bit confounded by the multitude of choices on display for Microsoft’s flagship operating system. Starter, Home, Home Professional, Professional, Ultimate, Enterprise; these are just a few of the commonly available versions of Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP, with many other designations adding further confusion to your buying experience. While most of these labels are well documented through the most common web resources, as well as at point of sale displays, there are a few versions of Microsoft’s OS which are so rarely seen that even the most knowledgeable Windows buff may be taken aback when asked about these “special editions.” Case in point: the “N,” “K,” and “KN” designations heaped on a number of Windows versions since Windows XP.
Not often seen in the North American marketplace, Windows editions marked with the “N,” “K,” or “KN” designations are versions manufactured specifically for the European (“N”) and South Korean (“K” or “KN”) markets. Why do these countries get these “special” designations? It’s all due to Microsoft’s seemingly endless run-ins with the law . . .
In March of 2004, the European Commission levied a fine of nearly $800 million dollars against Microsoft after concluding that the software giant had broken laws within the European Union governing fair competition and monopolies within the European PC operating system and media player markets. After numerous appeals, Microsoft and the European Commission came to an agreement whereby Microsoft would provide a court ordered compliant version of its Windows operating system, marked with the “N” designation, in addition to the standard Windows versions, to all customers within Europe. These “N” branded editions of Windows contain all of the functionality of their non “N” counterparts, with the exception of Windows Media Player and other related files, which were removed from the “N” versions to fulfill compliance with the European Commission ruling. Without the inclusion of Windows Media Player, “N” editions of Windows cost the same as their standard Windows counterparts, but prompt you to find software alternatives with which to watch movies, listen to music, burn media discs, etc.; in effect giving you a slightly crippled version of Windows for the price of a full featured version.
Similar to the “N” edition situation, Windows “K” and “KN” editions were created in response to a late 2005 order from the Korean Fair Trade Commission; which found Microsoft in violation of South Korea’s Anti-trust laws. This ruling saw a $30+ million dollar fine handed to Microsoft, in addition to an order to stop sales of Windows operating systems produced before the ruling; versions with Windows Media Player, Windows Messenger, and associated files bundled within. As with the European Commission ruling, Microsoft complied, creating the Windows “K” editions; versions of Windows which retain Windows Media Player and Windows Messenger functionality, but also include links to 3rd party media and messaging services under the “All Programs” sub-menu. In addition to the “K” editions came Windows “KN.” Copies of Windows branded with the “KN” designation removed Windows Media Player and Windows Messenger entirely from the operating systems’ setup, leaving behind only links to suggested alternative programs on the web.
With all these different versions of Windows floating around, you may be wondering which version you have, particularly if it came pre-installed on your computer. The easiest way to find out would be to right click your “My Computer” or “Computer” icon/link (located on the Desktop or Start Menu,) select “Properties,” and check the system properties box which appears for the name of your Windows operating system edition.
Generally speaking, unless your computer was purchased in Europe or South Korea, the chances of it having an “N,” “K,” or “KN,” version of Windows installed is quite slim; with the likelihood of a crippled “N” edition even more so as this version has proven unpopular, and not very well purchased, by European consumers and system builders alike.
So, given the option, should you purchase an “N,” “K,” or “KN” edition of Windows? If you are a collector of rare or obscure versions of Windows then sure, why not. However if, like most of us, you are interested in getting everything you paid for in your Windows experience, then your best bet would be to avoid these editions whenever possible.