While browsing the Bethsoft forums, I saw some screenshots and some videos, especially by Vality, which reminded me of what had lured me to Morrowind in the first place. While MGE was indeed an improvement over the vanilla look of Morrowind, after having played for a while, I can see now that my settings were definitely not getting the same results that Vality was displaying.
So after some reading, I determined that it was time to give ENBSeries another try. It's a third-party addon (like MGE) that works for a wide range of games, and adds various post-processing effects to Morrowind, such as bloom and colour-correction via user-made palettes. I had given up on it before, because the ambient occlusion had too many problems for me, and it slowed things down too much. But on the recommendations and settings of forum posters like Vtastek, Vality, and Mr. Domino, I tried a few specific settings for ENBSeries and shaders for MGE, and achieved some results that I think are an improvement. They may still be a bit too much on the dark side (a little gamma raising would help, I'm sure. Will have to look into that), and the contrast may be a little harsh, but this is much closer to the kind of results I was seeing in these nice screenshots. Vality is using a palette in ENBSeries to give the Bitter Coast's lighting a green tint, making it feel like a tropical rainforest, and also offers very nice tree replacers to increase the lushness of the foliage. He's also given the same treatment to Balmora, though there are some trees that are placed on top of structures added by Balmora Expansion, and I had to change the date of Vality's mod to allow Balmora expansion to load after it, to reduce landscape conflicts. I'll just be moving or removing a few trees from Vality's mod in the construction set to make them play more nicely together, because it really makes a great difference, and I also want to keep the expanded Balmora. At any rate, the Bitter Coast mod doesn't touch Balmora, so if you're going to try one out, I'd try that one first. There's also one that improves the foliage of the Ascadian Isles, including the town of Pelegiad. There are some nice before-and-after screenshots on that page.
I ended up using the settings of Vtastek from his post here, with the GIMP HDR Bloom custom filter for MGE that he recommended, with Mr Domino's personally tweaked download of ENBSeries. I also downloaded Vality's palette, but I don't use that all the time, because not every environment should be green. I should make separate, more subtle palettes to use for different areas, like in WoW, where for instance Ashenvale has a pink palette, and Feralas has a green one.
Other graphical improvements
I also installed several more texture replacers. I started with Darknut's Creature Textures for Morrowind, which preserve the same look as the original creatures, but with higher resolution and more fine details. Then I overwrote some of those with some of Connary's creature textures, which sometimes depart from the original design (for one, I chose not to install the zombie textures, as I found them a little lacking in character compared to Darknut's). I do, however, like his pack guar textures better! Also installed most of the rest of his region-specific texture replacers, such as the West Gash (which replaces that ugly cobblestone I was complaining about before), the Grazelands, and House Telvanni. Others, as well. Also installed Slof's Better Beasts to improve the Khajiit and Argonian races.
Today, I finally explored that dwemer ruin that was so interesting to me before. And coincidentally, before I did so, I followed up with Caius Cosades first, to get my first "orders" from him, due to a nagging feeling that perhaps I should start something of the main quest. As it turned out, the first thing I had to do was investigate those very ruins, which are called Arkngthand, to retrieve a particular item inside. I'll keep this limited to a general overview.
The place was lightly populated with a small number of low-level bandits, which were no trouble, but the loot was excellent -- mainly items to furnish my home with! Lots of pretty ornate dwarven bowls, pitchers, and goblets! There were also a lot of rusty dwarven cogs, which were worth 100 drakes, but weigh 50 pounds each, and I don't recommend bothering with them unless you've made one of those strength-enhancing spells I mentioned before.
The ruins were very interesting and mysterious. The dwarves obviously had a rather advanced industrial-age technology in the works, with lots of brass or copper metalworking, and probably chose the location for this building due to the heavy volcanic activity in the region, to harness its geothermal power (I saw many steam pipes around), and it was lit with buzzing gas-discharge lamps (probably sodium vapour).
It was very strangely laid out, but that's pretty common for a dungeon-crawl, where the intent is usually to lead a player on a particular path. There was separate section of it that was sealed behind a locked door that was probably meant to keep out any players who were following the main quest immediately, and wouldn't have been able to unlock it. I used Ondusi's Open Door, which worked fine. But I don't recommend going in there unless you're ready for a fight, because there are ghosts and three kinds of dwarven robots back there, some of which were very tough and killed me several times. I managed to lock one behind a door (using Fenrick's Doorjam -- I thought that would have to come in handy some time!), and the other I killed after using all my mana, several potions, many of my rings (for offense and for healing) and my Hellfire scroll. Big problem with robots -- my health-damaging and health-draining spells have no effect on them, and those are my most powerful spells. I suspect they're a bit resistant to fire, which comprise my second most powerful spells. I need to make a new level of shock spell, I think.
I was tempted to keep the special quest item for decoration purposes, but alas, I think I'll have to continue on with the main quest. Maybe I can find a duplicate of it somewhere, or get it back later.
On a slightly different note, I noticed that in the latest Windows Update, Microsoft was pushing their Live Essentials package, which included a number of things that already came with Vista, such as Calendar, Photo Gallery, Mail, and Messenger, so I never bothered with it. But I had read somewhere that the Live versions now included some new additional features that the bundled Vista versions didn't have, so I took a little look, and noticed that it included something called "Writer". I was a little curious what that was, even though I use OpenOffice for my writing needs, so I looked it up, and found that it's a writing program specifically aimed at bloggers. Well, I'm a blogger, and I saw it supported Blogspot posts, which is what I'm using here, so I decided to give it a try. Blogger's post composition window leaves a lot to be desired. It's tiny, can't be resized, and its buttons don't include header formatting, and when you insert a picture, it always inserts it at the top of the post, and you have to move it manually. This Writer promises better WYSIWYG post editing, using the format of the blog itself.
So I tried it out, though I was put off by it asking for my Blogspot user name and password, a bit of research failed to come up with any security issues or concerns, so I went ahead and did it. My impression isn't that great. It formats the text too small, and I can't find any options to increase the zoom factor. It restricts the text to a column meant to represent the main content area of my blog, but doesn't include the CSS wrapper or the menu bar on the side, so it's just wasted space, and without the wrapper, the text is too close to the edge, making it ugly. I was expecting a bit more. I'm already using an external application (FCKeditor) to compose my blog posts, full-screen, with full WYSIWYG buttons, and it's serving my purposes perfectly well, aside from the picture uploads, which I still do through the Blogger interface. I may play around with Writer a little more, but for now I doubt I'll be switching.