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Microsoft and Oracle are humbled, phone calls become free, and product design trumps functionality.

There's much to get excited about in 2006, according to five of Silicon Valley's leading venture capitalists -- as long as we don't all die first from a global outbreak of bird flu.

If nothing else, the five see lots of opportunities to invest the many millions of dollars in their hands.

At the Churchill Club's eighth annual ``Top Ten Tech Trends'' debate, held Thursday evening at the Crowne Plaza Cabaña Hotel in Palo Alto, each VC was asked to identify two trends, although several veered off the mark and delivered policy recommendations instead.

John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, perhaps the valley's most famous VC for his early backing of such winners as Intuit, Amazon.com and Google, gave the evening's most dire warning in talking about avian flu.

Governments in the United States and elsewhere in the world are guilty of ``criminal neglect,'' Doerr said, in failing to make preparations for a pandemic that could kill tens of millions.

``How can I make this case?'' Doerr rhetorically asked the capacity crowd of 650.

``Cough,'' shot back Joe Schoendorf of Accel Partners.

More seriously, Schoendorf said this is the first time in 25 years of knowing the often excessively enthusiastic Doerr that ``he has grossly understated his case.''

When and if the bird-flu virus now spreading in Asia and Turkey first mutates into a form easily transmitted among humans, it will start to move around the world within 96 hours, Schoendorf asserted.

Steve Jurvetson of Draper Fisher Jurvetson said the U.S. economy could collapse within a week or two, stalled by the spread of disease or by people staying home out of fear.

Doerr, who's participated in all the annual debates, isn't just fretting about avian flu; he's also taking action. Kleiner Perkins last month invested in BioCryst Pharmaceuticals of Birmingham, Ala., which is developing low-cost drugs to prevent and treat any future outbreak.

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The Rolling Stones cancel a gig in Hawaii and postpone other tour dates as Mick Jagger suffers throat troubles...

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