- Yes, you can softmod the Wii, which I would recommend over a chip, you never have to open your console. Say you have a HW failure and still have a warranty, you throw that out the window with a chip, with softmodding you can revert to OEM and send it in.
- I have upped and downed a few times, I like 3.4u but went to 3.2u just for the custom themes, you can do the same with 4.0. It's just a matter of preference. I haven't touched 4.1 yet.
- After you downgrade(mod), I would get BootMii or SoftMii(safety nets just in case you brick your Wii, trying stuff out). For apps, Ftpii, Mii extractor/installer, saves extractor/installer, a usb loader(tons of those), gamma disc loader, AnyTitleDeleter, AnyRegion Changer, cIOS Downgrader, ocarina, code downloader, wad manager, wii reader and sdexplorer. There are tons of other apps out there, just depends on what you want to do. Hope this was some what helpful.
*Make sure you ask questions when you need to, nothing wrong with that!