Welcome on board.
There were some decisions that were made, that we could not go back on, once committed. One of those was choosing 8.10. There were a great many reasons for it. However; yes, you are right. It will go dark soon, and we are trying to get the last of the bugs for 0810 squashed, so we can release it, and immediately build atop 1004, which is an LTS release.
I'm sorry about your hardware issues, but it is true, that if you follow a recommended hardware setup, things go much smoother. We need people to build more and more templates to support newer devices as they come out, to make them plug and play.
If you are familar with C, C++ isn't that big of a jump. We merely have an extensive architecture in place, where both code and data are intertwined. This does make for somewhat of an initial learning curve, but once you figure out what's happening, you'll see that it is very powerful (and actually very simple) to have LinuxMCE control anything.
And yes, LMCE is very much an appliance. We intend to keep it that way, there just is no other way for the system to function. I am investigating in the future to move the entire stack to MeeGo (which would better support such endeavours), and to peel away some of the vestigial pieces that Pluto created before the greater Linux community created equivalents...We want to push as much upstream as possible.
Come by the #linuxmce-devel channel on IRC (Freenode), and talk to us, this is where most of the development happens.
We only have one rule, "he who writes the code, makes the rules."
Again, thanks for your interest, and we would love your help.