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MSN loses top executive

David Cole plans to take a year off, as Microsoft continues its effort to wrest market share away from Google.

Microsoft needs someone new to manage the company's challenge to Google while MSN's top executive takes a yearlong leave of absence starting in April.

Senior Vice President David Cole assured employees in a memo issued Friday that he hasn't lost faith in MSN's direction, and that the decision to take time off was his alone, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which obtained a copy of the memo.

"While our progress in the market doesn't completely show it yet, I feel strongly that our strategy, our investments and our leadership is on track to get us to a winning market position," Cole said in his memo, according to the Post-Intelligencer.

Cole, who started at Microsoft in 1986, leaves at a time when Microsoft is throwing vast resources into its search technology to wrest market share away from industry powerhouse Google. Thus far, Microsoft's attempts have been mixed at best.

Google's share of searches grew from 45.7 percent last June to 46.3 percent in November, when it had 2.4 billion searches, according to research firm Nielsen/NetRatings.

MSN was merged last September with Microsoft's Windows division. Cole denied that he disapproved of the merger and said he even helped to orchestrate it.

Microsoft issued a statement from Adam Sohn, director of MSN Global Sales, saying the company supported Cole's decision to spend time plotting a course for his future. Sohn also said that Cole will play a part in finding his replacement.