Hi, and welcome to LinuxMCE! It sounds like your experience wasn't super, but you have learned a little about the project.
Depending on luck with the hardware combination, it's only possible for Linux experts and developers. I consider myself a member of the last category so I have the skills to investigate what goes wrong and what causes trouble, but still it takes me a lot of time to diagnose and I find the installation experience terrible.
I'm no Linux Expert, but so far, on my second attempt at using LinuxMCE, I have a hybrid/core up and running in no time. LinuxMCE is so large that you're bound to run into problems somewhere. But just like the first time you tried to use Linux, it can take some time to resolve issues.
I'm not one of the developers, so I can't respond about specifics, but I can tell you that if you read the forums and wiki you will quickly discover what video cards will work and which will give you grief. The unichrome chipset (is that on the via boards?) is one of those that will give you grief, unfortunately.
I have a small HTPC with a via board that uses the unichrome or via video chipset and the last time I tried to set that up as a media director, in a hurry, I ran into problems. I haven't gotten back to that box yet, and I'm not entirely looking forward to it, but I will see if I can use a nVidia pci card in that box if I run into problems. But I do know there's the potential for trouble. I guess in your case, you weren't fully aware of the issues with the unichrome drivers.
I also learned, very early on, that most of the configs are stored in the database and if you go manually adjusting some config files, they will be overwritten later on. You need to find out where you can properly change that information, and for me, I think most of that was inside the web-based control panel. If, as you require, you have specific needs in xorg.conf that can't be added in any other manner, you're stuck having to manually re-edit the file when needed :-(
If you don't understand the requirement to act as the DHCP server, then you're forgetting exactly how complex LinuxMCE is. You can try to set things up with a single nic (I did that a few months ago, scan the forums for some of my posts and you will see exactly how to set that up correctly) but you will likely run into other issues.
If you go single nic, you can easily disable the DHCP server in your current router and let the DHCP server in LinuxMCE manage things.
The dual-nic thing is a problem for some people. I really don't think they should suggest you can go with a single nic from my personal experience... to make it work right you need two nics. This meant that I had to re-think the way my home LAN was wired, but when I sat down and drew things out, all it required was running one network cable from the upstairs router to the basement (to the core/hybrid) and moving a second cable from the upstairs routers to the basement (to the core). The second cable then attaches to the second NIC, the internal network, and just happens to run to an 8-port gigabyte switch in my office where the rest of the network cables run from. I was lucky here, but I can see in other situations where re-arranging things just isn't possible, and that may mean that LinuxMCE isn't going to be suitable for you/them.
Since my router has a firewall already, I too disable the firewall on the core so I can easily get to it from the other machines, but I think once (and if) I move the new core to the main system, and the rest of the machines are behind it, then I can re-enable the firewall because, once again, then I'll be doing things the "LinuxMCE way"....
I actually found all the logging beneficial. There are lots of logs and many of them won't mean much to you and I but once you figure out what which logs are important they are a god send!
Just to get the system up and running with all hardware working, it took me about 20 hours. My first installation with Via Unichrome chipset took about 50 hours. That's not quite what it should be like.
I spent 8 days trying to get a system up and running 2 months ago. I'd settle for your 20 or 50 hours anyday. I didn't think it should take that much time either and I bailed. You'll have to decide if thrashing around further is worth your time. I came back with a brand new core with known good equipment (mind you my first core should have worked too). After 3 installs in only a few hours, it is working great. My one "unknown" was a cheap Trendnet PCI Gig NIC for $9.99 with a $10 mail-in rebate. I ended up using an older 100MB PCI Nic instead and things set up fine.
I guess these things really need to be addressed if LinuxMCE wants to build an active development community where progress is made fast. I would love to contribute because it theoretically has all the features I would love to have, but this project seems to set wrong priorities.
I don't know what the priorities are, but I can see a big improvement between the 7.10 Betas and the final release, and the forums indicate a huge improvement was made in the release prior to that.
I agree, that from the end user point of view, things appear to be a little behind the times? (not sure if that's the correct phrase) but the one thing I can say is there is plenty of discussion about what equipment should work and how LinuxMCE needs to be set up in order to function as expected.
I certainly fully understand more why those messages were delivered. I have since taken heed of those warnings and now I have a core that is working (so far!).
LinuxMCE is definitely not a quick, cheap, easy project to put together. Go into it knowing that and your luck may be better.