I do recommend that you rule out Encore. If you\'re going to take the time to learn a notation program, you want to get one that will be updated to work on future operating systems. Otherwise you will one day find yourself learning new software AND converting your old files to a new program. Encore is basically dead. Igor is also headed for failure, and in the program\'s current state, the program is extremely unstable. Between Finale and Sibelius, both programs appear to have a future, although Finale\'s is currently the brightest. Since we\'ve never seen two major notation companies coexist for a long period of time, it might not be a bad idea to give this some consideration.
Where the programs are at today, you probably won\'t go wrong with either Finale or Sibelius. As far as the learning curve goes, Finale is easier for the initial things, but Sibelius has a lighter overall curve, so you\'ll reach proficiency more quickly on it. Back in the Finale 2.0 days, it took me a couple of months to really feel comfortable in Finale, but ever since Finale 2000 this really hasn\'t been so much of a problem for people. I started seriously with Sibelius 2.0, and it only took a couple of days to get comfortable and a week before I was answering questions on the Sibelius forum. One big tip: there is no sense in spending $300-$600 on a program if you don\'t intend to read the tutorial guide. If you purchase Sibelius, read the entire user manual (about 400 pages). If you buy Finale, read the entire tutorial book (200 pages). The full user manual, 2000 pages, is intended as a complete reference, so it isn\'t necessary to read the whole thing. Reading the accompanying books will teach you how the programs think so that you will be able to figure out other things on your own. I\'ve found that 2-3 days of study increases my speed by several times and makes the experience a whole lot more enjoyable.
Finale does have the edge when it comes to handling MIDI. You can do most of what you need with MIDI in Sibelius (if you ran into limitations, let us know.. we can probably provide you with steps for doing what you need), but Sibelius doesn\'t have the tools for editing MIDI data that Finale does.
The best advice is to spend some time with the demos of Finale 2003 and Sibelius 2.1. The more time you spend, the better. In general, place decision-making emphasis on the program\'s ability to do what you need rather than speed or ease of learning. I haven\'t found that either program is really easier to use or faster all-around after becoming proficient.
You should also consider Overture 3, a demo of which you can get at www.geniesoft.com. I normally use Finale, but Overture is better at MIDI tasks. Although not as flexible as Finale in some of the finer and more esoteric points of notation, it is easier to learn and can do everything one normally needs.
I have found Sibelius to be much more reliable, efficient, and supported than Encore. I have been using Encore for years but always have a \"this is the last straw - this time I\'m leaving for good\" attitude with it. The support is practically not existant and that wouldn\'t be such a bad thing if the program wasn\'t so buggy. I think you should go for Sibelius - its a better product.
Don\'t forget that you can get download demos from Sibelius and Encore to help in your decision.