Microsoft has announced a replacement for David Cole to lead its Online Business GroupThe company has hired Steve Berkowitz to take on the position of senior vice president of the unit, which is responsible for Microsoft's MSN and Windows Live services, according to Microsoft's public relations firm. He will report to Kevin Johnson, who is co-president of Microsoft's Platforms & Services Division.Berkowitz, who most recently was CEO of Ask.com, a division of IAC\/InterActiveCorp., will be responsible for running the Online Business Group beginning May 8.The new executive is replacing Cole, who Microsoft says is leaving in May for a year-long sabbatical. But some insiders feel Cole left because the company was looking for new blood to kickstart its online business and compete more effectively with Google.MSN -- Microsoft's primary online business until the launch of Windows Live last November -- historically has not been a very successful business for Microsoft. MSN Search, recently rebranded with the Windows Live moniker, currently ranks third behind Google and Yahoo Inc.'s search engines. In recent months, the MSN portal has taken a backseat to Windows Live, which is rapidly becoming the new brand and online destination for Microsoft's Web strategy.In an e-mail obtained by the IDG News Service, Johnson told his staff that Berkowitz's role in reviving Ask.com and his proven ability in building consumer brands were the reasons behind the hire."Steve is an accomplished senior executive with a rich skill set, including consumer brand building, media, marketing, operations, people management, finance and technology," Johnson wrote. "He also brings a great blend of start-up and high-growth business experiences."Johnson added that Cole will help facilitate a smooth transition for Berkowitz as he assumes his new role.Prior to his role at Ask.com, Berkowitz was president and chief operating officer of IDG Books, where he helped build the popular brand of "Dummies" how-to books.