For a company that aims to be a global power in Internet search, Yahoo! has long suffered disappointment in China -- the world's No. 2 Internet market. After almost a decade there, Yahoo has never managed to become more than an also-ran in a field dominated by locals such as and Yahoo's Silicon Valley archrival, Google.

Jack Ma promises to change that. Ma is the chairman of, a Chinese e-commerce operator that last year took control of Yahoo's China operation. Before the Yahoo deal -- in which the U.S. company bought 40% of Alibaba for $1 billion -- Ma focused on his auction outfit, Taobao, and its competition with eBay. Now he's turning to search, with a major overhaul of Yahoo's Chinese-language search operation that gives the service the stripped-down simplicity of Google and Baidu.

Ma admits he has some catching up to do. "Google is running, Baidu is running -- and we are still straightening our shoestrings," he says. But, he adds: "I'm very excited about" the race.

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