Pffft, rounding nether portals is only for those that are too miserly with their obsidian to do them properly, but since nether portals are bugged and usually require you to tear down several magically created nether portals until they're placed right, you often end up with surplus obsidian. So there's no reason not to build them properly.
I don't really like to build block houses out of wood and stone; I just prefer to dig into the side of a hill, add a door and the entrance, and I'm happy. It makes it a bit harder to find but it looks better.
I felt the same way for a time, partly in response to this image:
For the first month, I lived in a tiny two-room keep, one room on top of the other, and kept most of my materials underground in natural caves that were connected through tunnels. Other than striping all the soil off a nearby island and transplanting it to the area near my keep (which I had, stupidly, built on a beach), I didn't interfere with the landscape. I didn't even fill in craters left by creepers.
Later, I doubled the size of my keep. Later still, I tripled that. Then I built the walls to protect myself, and put cobblestone inside to stop animals spawning. Then I built paths connecting my various bases. It was at this point that I realised I had abandoned my environmental protection policy and so I started flattening random areas because nature is now my bitch.
Screw you, creepers. I don't care if I'm the real monster because I've got a diamond sword and I will cut you up!
EDIT: Mobs killed by the sun now drop the items that correspond to them, like feathers for zombies. I'm pretty sure that in previous versions if they are burned by the sun they didn't drop them.
They always dropped items for me, I was constantly finding feathers, arrows and bones in the morning. Perhaps your game was bugged?