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Microsoft Net VP to step down

Pete Higgins takes an "extended leave of absence" from his post in the software giant's Interactive Media Group, sources say.

Pete Higgins is stepping down from his post as vice president of the Interactive Media Group for Microsoft, according to informed sources.

Sources said Higgins will not depart the software giant but will instead take an "extended leave of absence." He is expected to stay on until the end of the year. Until a permanent successor is named, Higgins will be replaced by Microsoft president Steve Ballmer. Microsoft wouldn't comment, but an announcement is expected later today.

Higgins's unexpected move comes as the software giant is creating an Internet portal,

Pete Higgins
Pete Higgins
fusing all of its online properties into what Higgins has called "a single, very focused, very rich portal site." Microsoft faces intense competition, however, from both media companies and industry competitors, such as Netscape.

Higgins is the second top executive to recently leave the interactive division. As reported, Peter Neupert left Microsoft to run Internet start-up Neupert was vice president of news and publishing in Microsoft's interactive media group.

As head of the Interactive Media Group, Higgins has led Microsoft's online and interactive media business, which has included MSNBC, the Microsoft Network, multimedia games, consumer CD-ROM titles, hardware, and desktop finance applications.

Higgins joined Microsoft in 1983. Previously, he was a vice president of the company's applications and content group.

For more than two years, Higgins has led Microsoft's foray into the interactive media business, The software experience with mixed results. Despite the clout of Microsoft's brand name, still is a long ways from having the reach of online giant America Online. Another interactive project, Microsoft's Sidewalk, has undergone a radical redesign as it experienced some cutbacks. Slate, Microsoft's online magazine, began charging for subscriptions earlier this year, but later than it originally had planned.

Despite the setbacks, Microsoft has become a major Internet competitor in a relatively short period of time. At Microsoft's annual financial analysts meeting in July, Higgins said: "We've really established ourselves as a real player in a number of the largest and most successful categories."

In July, Microsoft appointed Ballmer, formerly executive vice president of sales and support and Bill Gates' longtime business partner, as its president.

Higgins previously had reported directly to Gates. With July's management changes, he reports to Ballmer.