February 25, 2004 6:10 PM PST

Microsoft commercial-search chief departs

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The Microsoft executive charged with building a paid-search technology to compete with Yahoo and Google has quietly left the company after less than four months on the job, CNET News.com has learned.

Paul Ryan, the former chief technology officer at Overture Services, was hired at MSN on Oct. 20, 2003, just weeks after Yahoo finalized its $1.63 billion acquisition of the commercial search pioneer. Ryan's appointment as general manager in charge of "the monetization of MSN Search," according to Microsoft, was seen as a coup in the company's efforts to build a formidable rival to No. 1 search engine Google and replace its current commercial search partner, Overture.

Microsoft spokeswoman Crystal Duncan confirmed that Ryan left on Feb. 12. She would not comment on the specifics of his departure, but added that the company is actively seeking his replacement. Christopher Payne, vice president of MSN Search and Shopping and a member of the search-technology advancement team at Microsoft, has taken over Ryan's duties in the interim.

"It's business as usual, his departure was unrelated to the company's emphasis on search technology," Duncan said.

Ryan could not be immediately reached for comment.

Microsoft is working at a furious clip to build a search empire to surpass innovations made by Google. It has invested heavily to develop a system that will allow people to search the Web, desktop applications such as Microsoft Word and e-mail, and the operating system. Much of it will debut through its next operating system, dubbed Longhorn.

Microsoft has also said that it plans to build its own advertising-bidding system for sponsored search listings to replace its paid-search partner Overture, whose text ads helped propel MSN to profitability in the fourth quarter of last year. Microsoft has licensed commercial search listings from Overture for its MSN Network in the United States and the United Kingdom through June 2005.

MSN's advancements in search include a homegrown Web crawler called MSNbot, which is designed to index the Web and create a viable search engine. The company has also launched a searchable index of online news in several countries around the world, and launched a toolbar that lets people search from a permanent point on the browser.


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