Hi again Poocha,
WODE vs softmod will likely boil down to your
choice of convenience and tolerance.
When I first got my WODE (about 18 months ago, give or take), I knew absolutely nothing about softmods, other than that they existed. I know a tiny bit more, now, and am still happy with my choice to purchase the WODE.
First off, let me tell you that I am in no-way-shape-or-form associated with the WODE company or project. I couldn't care less if you bought their product or not. I am simply a user, like you, but 18 months in your future.
With softmod, you are modifying the basic Wii system software by allowing the Wii to load its games from a hard disk drive directly attached to the Wii. It is a delicate eco-system : any system update from Nintendo has the capability of knocking the entire hard disk drive off-line, if I am not careful. And installing softmods can be considered more invasive, with more chance of things going wrong and rendering your Wii inoperable. Because I don't know what I am doing, softmod-wise, I would be like an elephant amongst the flowers.
With WODE (pure), this is not possible. The only softmod involved for me, is the installation of WodeFlow. Any system update from Nintendo has the capability of knocking WodeFlow offline, which would be a major inconvenience, but not disastrous : I still have the option of using the WODE's built-in LCD screen to load the games from the hard disk. THIS
cannot be disabled. It may be more physically
invasive to install the WODE, because you have to open the Wii's case and move some wires around, but in my opinion, it is more straight-forward than the installation of custom IOS (custom sytem software).
One other potential difference, on which I am not quite sure : I have heard that softmod has a difficult time playing GameCube backups from a hard disk drive. The WODE has only one problem with GameCube games on the hard disk : on specific
games (that I don't own), the WODE will not play "streaming audio" (eg background music or sound). Other than that, the WODE is often praised for its ability to play GameCube games from a hard disk.
By installing WodeFlow, you are 1/2 way down the path of a "full softmod" (I don't know if it is 1% or 99% way down the path, so I use "1/2 way" euphemistically). But the softmod parts that are necessary to run WodeFlow are less than the softmod parts that are necessary for a full softmod equivalent to WODE, so it is much easier to maintain. Completely simple, actually, because I have since learned what I need to do if things go wrong.
Can you do everything using softmod that the WODE can do? I think the answer is "yes, but you need a higher level of technical knowledge to get it right consistently
Finally, an analogy: do you perform all of your own automobile maintenance? Change the oil yourself? While it's not a completely fair analogy, because there is the element of physical safety involved, but still : I pay money to a mechanic so (a) I don't have to learn how to do it myself, and (b) it just works. If you are already a mechanic, the answer is obvious. For the layperson, the answer is not so obvious. It's the same idea, for me, for the WODE.
It's your choice.
PS: with apologies to the original poster, see http://www.wodejukebox.org/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=6102
for an example of a softmod-gone-wrong. The OP's most relevant quote is "Right now I would be happy if I could get rid off the softmod and just return to a normal non-softmoded wii