Many harmonys have a mix of rubber buttons and dome contacts (ones that click). The rubber buttons can usually be repaired when they start to fail, but the dome contacts cannot. Unfortunately the dome ones are the what wears out first on harmony.
You are on your own with most URCs because they are sold and maintained by pro installers. So you either have to pay someone or find the software on your own. They do have lower end models for end users, like the R50 which are quite good.
If learning is all you want/need, nearly any universal remote $5-$20 will work fine, but will take a little more time and effort to set up the macros (activities) and aren't quite as intuitive to use on complex systems. If cost is your main concern, remotes like the URC WR7 (backlit) and RCA RCRP05B (not backlit) suggested in recent threads will do everything you need for less than $20. Harmony's are easier to set up and operate thanks to the LCD and programming via PC, but cost more. It's money well spent IMO since you can be up and running in just a few minutes.
If you have no need for macros, you may as well stick with a learning Dish remote like the 21.0 suggested earlier. But IMO, the buttons on the Dish remote are too stiff and they are a little more difficult to program than other similarly priced universals.
will practice on the dish remote, but I really won't use it in the end because I do not care for the lay out. I looked at a harmony 550 on amazon, but the buttons are realy small. There was also a 620 on ebay, like new, larger buttons, dogbone shape which I like, no retail box, but I am leary now after what you mentioned.