I spent most of the weekend getting the official host software working. The 'host' software is written in java, and uses several external libraries. After lots of fiddling, I got it working. The biggest problem was getting the RXTX libraries - I had set the LD_LIBRARY_PATH but I'd misspelled the directory name. The java software compiled OK, but didn't run as the native .so files were missing.
Once I'd got that running, I was getting preference file errors - all sorts of missing settings. Eventually tracked that down to a reprap.preferences file in ~/.reprap that came from a previous attempt early last year - well out of date. I replaced that with the latest reprap.preferences.dist and all was well.
The latest software looks much better - a better UI, and easier to understand controls. Skeinforge looks great for complete end-to-end prints, for dumping 3d models to a configured system, but the host software has easier options for configuration and testing. I've still got a bit of tweaking the options to match my setup.