Thanks very much for taking the time to reply, however as a new, non-demanding, computer expert ham... the information presented is useless because you're trying to argue with someone (other than me).
Here's what I'm interested in:
1. Flexradios, non Flex SDR radios, and SDR in general.
Get yourself a softrock or funcube or equivalent. <$50 and you get to fool with SDR in a variety of ways. I bought one of the first SDR1k radios (when they were a bare board set) and it was very interesting, but a bit pricey for a "fool around with DSP".. the softrock and funcube fit that niche very, very well.
I'd go with something that does NOT use a sound card, just because it's one less set of cables to fool with. The receivers that are based on USB TV widgets are a great way to start.
The most important thing is "useful" software to fool with it. whatever platform you're most familiar with is where you should look. gnuradio on Linux isn't bad, if you're a Linux hacker type, and don't mind seeing installation instructions that say "untar the distro, make clean; make" and you're used to reading man pages and have decent google-fu.
2. Radios that are not primarily SDR, but have interesting ways that a computer can be put into the mix, or are capable of being controlled through software.
almost any of the modern radios can do this. I have a IC7000 and it's trivially interfaces to most computers. The same is true for most other modern radios.
I'd budget spending a few bucks for a USB to computer interface that does ALL of the interfacing (audio and control) with one cable, so you don't wind up with the rats nest. I did the homebrew isolation transformer thing (cannibalizing off old modem cards), then the RigBlaster thing, and when I went to the "all in one" approach, I stopped worrying about the half dozen different cables, screwing around with level set pots, and so forth.
There's a variety of rig control programs out there that are nice. I like Ham Radio Deluxe, but there's lots of others. These days, most allow "network" operation.
Personally, I don't care about arguing what rig is better. I care about getting a radio that will hold my interest for a while and not become obsolete before I'm willing to throw it out.
"obsolete" means a lot of different things. There's a long tradition in ham radio of using "this thing that I found at a ham fest back in 1975 and have been storing in my garage for just this need, all I needed was some spare parts which I cannibalized from a piece of war surplus gear (that's WW2) my buddy had". I'm not sure this is productive, but there are those that enjoy it. It also leads to unrealistically high prices in the used market for what is essentially 50 year old junk (in terms of performance), because you need parts donors to keep your favorite box working.
It's not like someone is going to change the underlying modulation for CW or SSB, so a SSB radio from 1960 will interoperate over the air with the radio you buy today.
Modern radios are infinitely better, in terms of performance in general, than "favorite" rigs of yesteryear, largely due to the incorporation of hardcoded DSP. Yes, there are oddities.. AGC loops on some classic rigs are better in some enviornments, but *in general* modern radios are much better, and have better reliability. They are *not* user fixable or modifiable as much: That incredible functionality in a small package at a very low price (a kilobuck) comes with custom ASIC, or at the least mask programmed DSP chips and such. My decades old FT-757GX works, but the frequency stability is terrible, the computer control is terrible, etc.
The model of use is "budget your 2 kilobuck, expect it to last 5-10 years, then buy a new radio" $200-400/year.
I AM concerned about the 1394 connections being readily available in 10 years. Heck I did beta testing on the provisional standard for Apple Computer. 10 years is a long time... there's a lot of dead technology in ten years. And it's important to note that Ethernet is going nowhere, because ieee8023 is used *everywhere*.
Maybe that lowers my stock as a ham... because you guys seem to be pointing out big important arguments and related fallacies... when I'm just trying to buy a radio.
My first radio.
Many hams are proud (excessively so, in my opinion) of traditional approaches. There is an appeal and value in skills developed over years of improvising and repurposing surplus. However, you'll have noticed that repurposeable surplus is becoming less and less common. Commercial manufacturers go to higher levels of integration and custom parts. Test equipment and commercial comm gear isn't made from commodity components any more.