Among the many windmills Jerry Yang tilted at in his brief career as Yahoo's CEO was his devotion to Web search. It veered on an obsession for him. It played into his decision to resist Microsoft's offers to shower him with cash, first for his whole company, then for just its search business. Is it a coincidence, then, that Yahoo's top search engineer has left a day after Yang stepped down? A tipster tells us Sean Suchter resigned yesterday, and speculates that he may be joining Microsoft.If so, Microsoft may have gotten Yahoo's search business on the cheap. Our tipster writes:

Today is the end for Yahoo Search. Sean Suchter just left for Microsoft. Everyone in the office is shocked. I've been on the Yahoo Search team for a while and he is the one key executive that it all depends on. If Microsoft has convinced him to leave and join them, they won't need to buy Yahoo Search. We will just all join Microsoft anyway. I am definitely going to send him my resume.

Rumor has it that Yahoo already lost a search executive, Qi Lu, to Microsoft; but Suchter commanded the loyalty of many within Yahoo's search group. These names may not mean much to anyone outside engineering circles in Silicon Valley, but they amount to this: If Microsoft has recruited Suchter, it has gotten the heart of Yahoo's search technology without the fuss of actually buying it. That will please many on Wall Street who want Yahoo to get out of search; the company could save billions of dollars a year in expenses by dropping the business altogether, and serving up search results from Microsoft or Google's index of the Web instead, as sites like Facebook and do today. Yang had an expansive vision of Yahoo as a one-stop shop for advertisers where they could buy both search and banner ads. But he dealt the image of Yahoo's search a blow when he tried to do a deal with Google to have the search giant sell some of the ads that appear on Yahoo's search results. Regulators in D.C. blocked the deal, but the damage was done. Engineers like to be on a winning team — or at least one that's fighting the good fight. Microsoft may be an underdog in Web search, with a pitiable market share which keeps shrinking, but its top executives are obsessed with beating Google — and they seem more secure in their offices than Yang. Microsoft still has an unsavory image in Silicon Valley, but for coders who have been dealt a drubbing for years by Google, it's an adequate revenge vehicle. Here's the memo on Suchter's departure:

From: Tuoc Luong Date: 11/18/08 3:43 PM To: Yahoo Search Team Hi Everyone, Unfortunately, I have to give some bad news to you. Sean Suchter has resigned. Sean’s last day will be December 19th. Some of you will find this news shocking given that Sean has been a Gibraltar rock at Yahoo and in particular for the Search team. . I understand this. I will point out that we’re on a good trajectory. We’ve released some good products and capabilities and the industry is beginning to take notice. We’ve closed the gap in Algo relevance and making great strides in building the next generation differentiated search experience and step function in relevance – not to mention infrastructure overhaul that prepares us for the future. I came here to take on Google because I believe Yahoo above all is best positioned to take the battle to Google. I think we’re on the right path to changing the tide and would love to see everyone make the journey but I respect Sean’s personal decision. I’m committed to continue the battle against Google as long as Yahoo positions Search to be competitive (and I believe we are). I hope each and all of you feel the same way and stand with me to battle Google. I’ve asked Arnab to step up and take over Sean’s role as head of YST. Just as Sean has been a strong arm for me, Arnab has been a strong arm for Sean. Although Sean casts a large shadow, I believe Arnab will step up to fill the hole with your support. Arnab will cast his own shadow as the new leader of YST and it’s the same YST team that has deliver great products like Search Assist, Secure Scan, SearchMonkey, BOSS, numerous MLR and QRW release to close the GAP in core relevance. Sean and Arnab have been communicating to the YST leaders about the changes. Arnab has been thinking and discussing the new organization with people. He will send out an e-mail describing his organizational thoughts and plan for YST soon. I believe with the support of other leaders (myself, Bharat, Yongdong, Nam, ..etc), Arnab will fill the void and continue the battle with Google. I urge everyone to support Arnab in his new endeavor. Tomorrow, I’ll be holding an all managers meeting to discuss the changes and Q&As. Please wish Sean the best in his future endeavor and congratulate Arnab in his new role. Thanks Tuoc

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