Note: I'm asking some pretty broad questions in this topic, and some of them are also fairly open to opinion. In the past we've tried to provide extensive lists of possible software packages, but they were ultimately pretty useless, providing an extensive list with no real guidance on making a choice. I'm hoping that if we get some detailed answers from a variety of different people that this topic might be a valuable resource on how beginners might make their own properly informed decision when choosing software.
There's a lot of music/audio editing/creation software out there, with a whole range of different features, different pricing structures, etc. and it can be pretty confusing for a beginner to find and choose a good package.
Obviously a big part of making the right choice is finding a package with the features you personally require, at a price you can afford, and which you feel comfortable working with, and a great way to do that is to try out the demo versions of different packages until you find one which meets your needs...
...but how do you narrow down the selections?
What features should every software package offer? Are there any features so important that it's not worth considering a package that doesn't offer them? What are the killer features you personally look for, or which lead you to choose the software you currently use?
Are there any features that would be considered important to the majority of composers but which a beginner might not think to look for?
Is there any particular process you follow when trying out demo versions of software to make sure you've tested thoroughly, or do you just play around with them?
Lastly, what software do you personally use, and why did you choose it? Are there any areas you feel are lacking in your current set up, or is there anything you're really wanting to add to it? Would you recommend the same software to others? //EDIT: I realise these questions in particular are very subjective, but I think the answers would really be of interest to beginners -- as such I'd love to hear everyone's opinions, but would just ask that everyone try to respect the opinions of others as well and try to avoid any holy wars or petty arguments.
Thanks in advance for your time!