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Microsoft Hires Away IAC Executive

Microsoft (MSFT) is hoping the executive who turned around the Ask search engine can aid its own Internet efforts.

The Redmond, Wash. software giant said late Friday it had hired Steve Berkowitz, Ask¿s CEO, to head its online business group, which includes the MSN.com Web site and the Windows Live set of Web services.

The move appears aimed at helping Microsoft better compete with the likes of Yahoo! (YHOO) and Google (GOOG).

Berkowitz is credited with turning around Ask, formerly known as Ask Jeeves. The site became part of Barry Diller¿s IAC/InteractiveCorp (IACI) Internet conglomerate last year.

Searches at Ask grew 33% in the fourth quarter of last year, according to one study. That¿s four times as fast as the industry rate and faster than search goliath Google¿s 25% gain. In February, Ask's search growth remained strong, rising 28% from a year ago, vs. Google's 29%.

Berkowitz replaces David Cole, who Microsoft said last month would begin a leave of absence beginning in May. Also last month, Microsoft announced a restructuring aimed at better coordinating Windows software with Windows Live and its Web sites.

Microsoft shares finished Friday up 12 cents at $27.15. IAC/InteractiveCorp ended the session down 16 cents at $30.07.

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