Hcat.. when you disable the emoticons, you're disabling them for your use. They still appear on the left side of the reply box.
Unless you were using "threaded view", if you chose not use any of the features available with these boards, there's really very little difference in posting from the other boards.
As far as prior notification of the changeover... I understand the transition could have gone smoother... but...would it really make a difference if your were told a week ago that the boards were going to change to a new format today?
You still wouldn't have known what the changes were until you saw them.
We didn't have a firm date to announce because they have been under development for some time, and we never really knew when they'd be ready to "go public".
You must not have been a registered member before, or your screename, password, etc. would have been brought into the data base already. Happy to see that you did choose to register, and join the CM community.
Hopefully as you move around, and get a feel for the new boards, you'll find the benefits that they offer over and above the old ones.