Windows Live Search Head to Leave Microsoft

The Windows Live brain drain continues as news sources are reporting that Windows Live Search vice president Christopher Payne will be stepping down shortly.

The Wall Street Journal says sources are indicating that Payne will be leaving the company to start his own business, and that Microsoft has not yet decided on a successor. Microsoft is so far declining to comment on the reports.

Payne's departure would follow that of Blake Irving, who is set to retire. Irving was the vice president of the Windows Live platforms group and became the public face of the initiative to many in the tech community. It may also signal more serious trouble within the unit.

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Windows Live Search has steadily been losing share in most surveys, and the overall brand has seen several services either be cut or end up being switched to the better-known MSN brand in an attempt to keep them alive.

This follows a dizzying period where as many as three dozen different Live-branded projects were in development at one time. Last year, at a gathering in Redmond for bloggers and MVPs, many commented after the event about how the Windows Live effort seemed to lack direction.

Some caution, however, on focusing too much on Windows Live's revolving door. "Although Microsoft seems confused and directionless, they are undoubtedly treating Windows Live as their long-term strategy to challenge Google," Windows Live watcher Chris Overd said, who runs the Web log LiveSide.net.

"The loss of these key executives is not as important as the individuals they choose to replace them, especially with Search being such an uphill struggle," he continued.

Payne worked with Microsoft on Access during the 90s, but left for three years to work with Amazon.com. In 2001, he returned to the company, and most recently oversaw Microsoft's online search division. He played a major role in convincing Microsoft to invest in its own search technologies.

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