1. If I purchase namecoins I assume I store them and any "special coins" with my registered domains in a standard (separate) bitcoin wallet (local or online)?
Ah, just realised i strore my namecoins with the namecoin software. Just having trouble installing it on windows!!
You only need you namecoin wallet to be able to manage your namecoins and your domains. Domain name data is stored in the transactions, in the blockchain and your wallet gives you control on this (same as bitcoin, except there is additional data in tx).
2. If i choose to manage my own names, what is the window of opportunity to renew names when the expiration block approaches? Is there always going to be a period, however small, that your names are up for grabs? Does the existing software allow you to automate renewals?
Your names will expire after 36'000 blocks (~250 days) after the last update (name_update command). So, you have 36k blocks to update them. You are the only owner until it reaches 0 block left.
If you let them expire, you must register you domain again (name_new and name_firstupdate), before anybody else do it.
There is no automatic update, but there is a python script that can help you : http://dot-bit.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=495
I've just noticed that ur the administrator on the namecoin forum. Hopefully these questions aren't too stoopid and may help improve the existing documentation for the less tech savvy types like me
I'll complete the FAQ
if needed :p