Capturing the baseline is vital if you want to track actuals and see the variance. I tend to use the tracking table to update actuals as I can put in the actual duration and the estimate to completion, when we actually started etc. The update tasks button on the tracking tool bar is also excellent for accessing many of the fields in the tracking gantt.
Have a look at the detailed gantt for slippage and float – I think this is a brilliant gantt chart.
One of the views I found helpful when looking at resource availabiliy is the resource usage view with the resource group filter applied. You would need to make sure that each resource had been assigned a group eg programmer. You can then see other programmers availability. Right clicking on the time phased grid will also give you access to the remaining availability field.