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Are they so old because they work fine and didn't need updates, or have they been replaced by newer, more efficient and secure solutions?
Yes, notably the GRSecurity kernel patch, SELinux (not interchangeable) and (various forms of) virtualization. GRSecurity reinforces chroot, allows finegrained control over resources (RBAC) and extends logging capabilities. SELinux provides a form of RBAC as well. Virtualization doesn't provide security enhancements (in the sense GRSecurity and SELinux do) but mitigates damage by separating the guest O.S. from the host O.S..
I am planning to use this as an added precaution for anything from ftp server to bittorrent.
I think it would be best to first start with host hardening (check out the LQ FAQ: Security references) including extended logging, adding an IDS, auditing and integrity check sw (should be done right after O.S. install) and a backup scenario. Proper host hardening means less ways open holes for corruption. "Better" logging (and parsing and reading), using an IDS (Snort, Prelude), auditing sw (Tiger, Chkrootkit, Rootkit Hunter, number9's NSAT, etc, etc) and integrity check (Aide, Samhain) means you have more layers of inspection and better chances of getting warned and *knowing* what to look for. *After* that decide what features you need in an FTPd (I prefer Muddleftpd as it's security record is better than even Proftpd). If you are going to run a Bittorrent tracker then you will have to invest time hardening your database, webserver and (especially) firewall setup. If you are going to run a Bittorrent client then you can get away with investing considerably less time. The swarm doesn't interact with your client other than shoving packets your way AFAIK.
run a potentially dangerous application in a secure and limited environment.
A bit OT maybe but as you've seen there are different solutions for different tasks. Like for instance I wouldn't want to run unknown hostile code I found in a chroot: I'll use Qemu for that. One final note is that while proper hardening goes a long way and stuff described above can help, nothing compares to relocating (DMZ) "vulnerable" services you need to provide to a separate box (also see: eggs, basket).