-> The encoding issue was spotted a while back, but a lot of fixes were delayed by the server move. Hopefully it's fixed soon as it affects most copied-and-pasted text across programs/operating systems.
-> I see your point, but lightboxes are increasingly common; CNET's been almost exclusively using the login lightbox for a few years now I believe. With so many sites using the technique, it shouldn't confuse many users, who will certainly encounter them elsewhere regardless.
-> I've made exactly the same argument for enhancing the PM system in the past. The PM system isn't actually part of the forums, instead being shared by CNET as a whole, so it's something that would be a separate project in and of itself, outside of the forums overhaul. Still, it's one project I'm certainly rooting for, as I have been for a while now.
-> Ah yes, another change I've been pushing for over the past couple years. Unfortunately, this too is a significant change as the forums share the same layout (and code) as the rest of the site. It may happen eventually, but in the interim I wrote my own CSS to make it a reality. I really need to share the updated version; it's been a while....
Have a suggestion or two and also a bug report about the new forum software.
First the bug report before I forget. Pretty minor, but it looks like you're using an incorrect character encoding so that a single quote character ends up being translated as a question mark. This probably only affects non-Windows systems since a few years back Microsoft decided they were going to rearrange the placement of some characters in fonts to make room for their smart quotes. You may want to just use UTF-8 or something.
Second, the "pop up" for posting a new question/comment is kind of a bad idea. It looks nice and all, except that it's prone to make people think that their browser window/tab is locked now until they finish posting something.
Third, I'd recommend a simple private message system common on other forums. While it could also facilitate private communications between forum members, my thought is it could be useful for moderator to user interaction. I rarely, if ever, check the email account associated with my Cnet account, I'm sure others are the same. I figure this could help head off a lot of issues with members. The moderator could send a quick message explaining why they deleted some post or locked a thread, and even open up some kind of communication with a user. Sometimes simple efforts like that are all it takes to head off small problems before they become large problems.
Third, while you're tinkering with the font encoding, can you also tinker with the way the site is laid out? Like using relative positioning instead of fixed. I have a 27" iMac with a resolution of 2560x1440, so I get these massive 5-6" thick borders on the left and right for about 3-4" worth of actual content. It's a waste. Instead of dictating that the forum posts are X number of pixels, you could just as easily say that they are X% of the total screen. That way they automatically format themselves to whatever size window the user has. Not everyone runs their browser maximized, and it would also make the forums a bit more mobile friendly.
Which is the next suggestion. While the AJAX stuff is all well and good, and I get that it lowers the number of requests on the database server, given the success of things like the iPad and it's soon to be numerous competitors, it seems like you're locking them out of using the new forums. Maybe there's a fallback to a more traditional system I just haven't seen, but it doesn't seem like mobile devices are going anywhere any time soon, so if Cnet wants to continue to claim to be at the forefront of technology, it seems like making the forums accessible to people using cell phones or tablet devices would be a step in the right direction, even if we all may agree those people are nuts.
That's all I've got for now, but it should be enough for a time.