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Saturday, February 18, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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MSN executive to take leave

Seattle Times technology reporter

Amid its heated competition with Google, Microsoft's MSN division is losing its top executive.

Senior Vice President David Cole announced to employees Friday that he's taking a one-year leave of absence, after which he may or may not return to the company.

MSN lost another senior executive on Thursday when Bruce Jaffe, vice president and chief financial officer of the division, announced that he's transferring to Microsoft's business development group, which handles acquisitions and partnerships.

MSN overhauled its strategy and became profitable in 2004, but it has struggled to compete with Google in the search and advertising business.

MSN was also absorbed last September into the larger Windows division, so many inside the company expected high-level reorganizations would follow.

The group has also lost some key managers since then, including Hadi Partovi, general manager of the portal and content group, and Raja Abburi, general manager of communication-client products.

A spokesman said Cole's departure is unrelated to the Windows merger and Google competition, and noted the group has been making money and rolling out new services under the Windows Live brand.

"To some degree I think David felt comfortable enough with the state of things at MSN that now's the time," spokesman Adam Sohn said.

Cole, one of the relatively few senior executives from this region, joined Microsoft in 1986 after receiving a master's degree in mathematics from Western Washington University. He worked on Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows CE and several versions of Internet Explorer. He also led the company's Web Client and Consumer Experience groups before taking his current position in November 2001.

"He's been here 20 years and he wants to recharge," Sohn said.

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Cole will stay through April and work with Windows co-President Kevin Johnson on finding a new person to lead the MSN group, Sohn said.

Jaffe will stay in his current position until a replacement is hired. He joined Microsoft as an analyst in 1995 and joined its corporate development office when it was formed in 1999. Later he was general manager of development, managing the company's consumer-related investments and partnerships.

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com

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