March 8, 2007 / 12:47 AM / 13 years ago

Microsoft Web search exec leaving company: source

Christopher Payne, corporate vice-president of MSN Search, attends the Reuters Tech Summit in San Francisco March 1, 2005. The Microsoft Corp. executive in charge of closing the gap on Web search leader Google Inc. is leaving the company, a source familiar with the situation said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Michael Tweed SSM

SEATTLE (Reuters) - The Microsoft Corp. (MSFT.O) executive in charge of closing the gap on Web search leader Google Inc (GOOG.O) is leaving the company, a source familiar with the situation said on Wednesday.

Chris Payne, corporate vice president of Windows Live search, is leaving Microsoft to start his own company in Seattle, said the source, who asked not to be identified. A Microsoft spokesman declined to comment.

Payne’s departure takes place at a time when Microsoft continues to struggle against Google in Internet search even though the company has tried to overhaul its search site with a new look and features.

Google captured 47.5 percent of the online search market share in January with 3.3 billion queries compared to 10.6 percent for Microsoft with 733 million queries, according to data from research firm comScore Networks Inc.

Microsoft’s share in January was a slight improvement from 10.5 percent in December, but a decline from 11 percent in November.

Payne, who rejoined Microsoft in 2001 after a three-year stint at Amazon.com (AMZN.O), played a key role in persuading the company to develop its own search engine instead of relying on Yahoo Inc. YHOO.O

Prior to Amazon, Payne spent 8 years at Microsoft.

Microsoft’s late start in search put the company at a disadvantage to Google and Yahoo. Those companies made billions selling advertising tied to search results while Microsoft scrambled to build a business of its own.

Payne would become the second executive from Microsoft’s Internet arm in the last week planning to leave the company . Blake Irving, a Microsoft vice president who oversees the company’s AdCenter system that sells ads next to search results, plans to retire, Microsoft said.

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