I think the "starlane"-style approach is certainly interesting; however I am absolutely DYING to know what an open-space system would feel like.
More than that however, I think that a perfect middle-ground would be: open-space star systems, with said systems connected by starlanes. Hopefully something that will be considered for Sins 2 eh?
SotS already has this to an extent. The tactical battles are real time either at systems or interceptions in space. There is open movement for some races, though you still cannot really park your fleets in deep space (well you can, but you have to game the system a bit to do it, so I don't).
Now the real time battles are a turn off for some (myself included), but the design of the game and the number of different galaxy types you can create to play in make it well worth checking out if you have not already.
They are currently working on SotS2 I believe, though I've not seen alot of details about it so far.
Distant Worlds should also be interesting, it definately gives me a MoO3 feeling though, so that could really go either way depending on how well they handle the auto routines to take care of the micro.