My schedule is crazy. Finally able to check back on your thread.
MOTU Ultralite sounds good. So does one of the Focusrite Scarlett series. Also look at Roland. RME has quality and stability pretty much on lock, but you pay for what you get.
If you go firewire, make sure you get a PCIe firewire card using a TI chipset. MOTU site has a list of tested cards, i think. Otherwise NewEgg will give you the chipset in the specs.
For a given price range under $1500, you can pretty safely choose based on features. IMO you can safely ignore anything under $300.
For your outboard pres, pay attention to whether they want S/PDIF, AES or line in.
DAW software is really a preference thing and can range from bundled ("light") versions, shareware (like Reaper - $60), all the way up to multiple thousands (Nuendo). And then there's plugins, VSTi (software instruments) and sample libraries.