Microsoft Live Search Exec To Leave

The executive who led Microsoft Corp.'s Web search division is leaving his post with the software maker to start his own business, Microsoft people aware of the situation said Wednesday.

Christopher Payne is the corporate vice president in charge of Windows Live Search, formerly MSN Search, an effort the company launched after its search partner Inktomi was acquired by Web portal business Yahoo Inc. in 2003.

The people aware of the situation insisted on anonymity because they did not have permission from the company to speak about the matter.

Payne did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment or return a call to his home in Seattle.

In spite of its efforts to build buzz around the Live brand, Microsoft's sites handle far fewer queries than the industry leader, Google Inc., and the No. 2 player, Yahoo. According to research group Nielsen/NetRatings Inc., Microsoft snagged about 9 percent of U.S. searches in January, compared with Google's 54 percent and Yahoo's 23 percent. Microsoft's actual number of searches rose from about 523,000 in January 2005 to about 643,000 in the same month this year, while Google's more than doubled from about 1.9 million to about 3.9 million, the research group said.

"I'm guessing they are looking at the number of queries ... and seeing it not grow fast enough, and thinking it's time for a leadership change," said Matt Rosoff, an analyst for the independent research group Directions on Microsoft.

During a conference call following Microsoft's second-quarter earnings, Microsoft cut expectations for revenue growth in its online services business, which includes Live Search and other Web properties. The company now forecasts revenue growth from 3 percent to 8 percent, down from a more optimistic view issued after first-quarter earnings for 7 percent to 11 percent growth.

"This was supposed to be the year that MSN started turning around revenue. Now it doesn't look like that turnaround is happening as fast as they thought it would," Rosoff said.

The Payne news closely followed another Live departure. Microsoft confirmed Monday that Blake Irving, corporate vice president of the Windows Live Platform group, is leaving the company. In an e-mail message sent to colleagues, Blake cited a long commute as one factor in the decision.

"Blake Irving was the last of the MSN old guard who still had a pretty big job with Windows Live," said Rosoff. This may be Microsoft management's "attempt to shake up the group a bit."


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