Microsoft distributes special “N” editions of Windows in Europe and “KN” editions of Windows in Korea. These are the same as the standard editions of Windows, except they don’t include Windows Media Player and other multimedia playback features.
How Are “N” and “KN” Editions Different?
“N” editions of Windows are available in Europe, and are missing a few media-related features. On Windows 7, you’ll find that Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center are missing. On Windows 10, they don’t include Windows Media Player, Groove Music, Movies & TV, Voice Recorder, or Skype.
“KN” editions of Windows are available in Korea. They remove Windows Media Player and related multimedia features, just like Windows N. When the KN versions of Windows were created, they also removed Windows Messenger. However, Microsoft has since discontinued this application.
You don’t have to buy an N or KN edition of Windows, even if you live in these areas. Standard editions of Windows are also available for purchase.
There isn’t just one “N” edition of Windows, either. Instead, there are “N” versions of most Windows editions. For example, if you want to buy Windows 10, you can get Windows 10 Home N or Windows 10 Professional N. These are identical to the standard Home and Professional editions of Windows with all the same features, except they exclude the multimedia features mentioned above.
These editions of Windows exist entirely for legal reasons. In 2004, the European Commission found Microsoft had violated European antitrust law, abusing its monopoly in the market to hurt competing video and audio applications. The EU fined Microsoft €500 million and required Microsoft to offer a version of Windows without Windows Media Player. Consumers and PC manufacturers can choose this version of Windows and install their preferred multimedia applications without Windows Media Player also being present. It’s not the only version of Windows offered in the European Union—it’s just an option that has to be available. This is why the “N” editions are only available in Europe.
Similarly, in 2005, the Korea Fair Trade Commission found Microsoft was abusing its monopoly position to hurt competing multimedia and messaging apps. It fined Microsoft $32 million and required Microsoft to offer a version of Windows without Windows Media Player and MSN Messenger. This is why those “KN” editions of Windows are available in Korea.
Quite a Few Things Will Break
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just removing Windows Media Player. The removal of underlying multimedia codecs and playback features means quite a few applications won’t work properly.
Many apps, from Microsoft Office to some PC games, rely on the built-in Windows video playback features. These features may not function properly in such applications, or the applications may crash completely.
On Windows 10, Cortana, Windows Hello, and PDF viewing in Edge won’t work. Multimedia features in Store apps may not work. Microsoft’s website offers a detailed (but not complete) list of disabled features.
Microsoft’s Free Media Feature Pack Restores These Applications
“N” and “KN” editions of Windows aren’t prevented from using these media playback features. Instead, they’re just not installed by default.
If you want to enable these disabled multimedia features on a N or KN edition of Windows, download the free Media Feature Pack from Microsoft. There are different download links depending on whether you need it for Windows 10, Windows 8, or Windows 7. This will re-enable all those disabled features.
Should I Buy Them?
Let’s be honest: These editions of Windows have largely been a flop. In theory, they were created to increase choice for consumers and PC manufacturers. Rather than being forced to use Windows Media Player, users could avoid it entirely and install their own proffered applications. PC manufacturers could choose the media player software they preferred, and media player companies could better compete without Microsoft getting in the way.
But these versions of Windows haven’t been very popular. They’re still not that common, so some third-party applications may not work properly if they assume these multimedia features are always present and rely on them. And Microsoft keeps adding new features to Windows 10 that won’t work properly on these editions of Windows unless you install the missing multimedia features.
RealPlayer creator RealNetworks cheered the EU decision, but RealPlayer didn’t become popular in response. It’s even hard to argue Microsoft is benefiting from these preinstalled apps—today, Microsoft is far behind competing services like Spotify and iTunes when it comes to music, and Skype is getting a run for its money from the many competing messaging services out there, from Facebook Messenger to iMessage and FaceTime.
If you have a choice, we recommend you avoid these editions of Windows. Of course, if you have an N or KN edition, it’s not a big problem—you can just download the free Media Feature Pack.