Windows 7 N: The 'N' editions explained

Stumbling on to Microsoft's UK Web store could thrust you face to face with three unusual versions of Windows -- the 'N' editions. We explain what they are and why they exist

Nate Lanxon Special to CNET News
2 min read

Stumbling on to Microsoft's UK Web store could thrust you face-to-face with confusion -- up close and personal with three unusual versions of Windows known as Windows 7 Home Premium N, Windows 7 Professional N and Windows 7 Ultimate N.

The strong arm of European law demands Microsoft offer these confusing 'N' editions, but to understand what they are and why they exist at all, we need a little history lesson.

Back in 2004, the European Commission fined Microsoft a record €497m under an antitrust ruling. The Commission concluded that with a near-monopoly in the operating system market, Microsoft's bundling of Windows Media Player within Windows was anti-competitive. Microsoft was forced to unbundle the software and offer European consumers and manufacturers a version of Windows without it.

Microsoft was allowed to keep selling Windows with a media player, under the condition that it at least offer a version without. This took place in the latter part of Windows XP's life and prompted the release of Windows XP N -- a version identical to Windows XP, but without Windows Media Player.

A couple of years down the line, Windows Vista splatted down in Europe, complete with its own N editions to confuse the poor saps who missed the EC's memo.

Windows 7 N

Fast-forward to today, and a Microsoft spokesperson explained to CNET UK, "The European Commission's 2004 decision requires Microsoft to offer an N version of Windows in Europe. We continue to abide by this ruling."

And so Windows 7 N was born. They cost the same as their non-'N' brothers and sisters, and apart from Windows Media Player, offer the same spread of features.

All you have to do now is decide which of the six non-N versions are right for you, and, wouldn't you know it, we have a handy, simple guide for that as well.

All questions are welcome in the comments.