The question I am most frequently asked about music-notation software is, "Which is better, Sibelius or Finale?" My answer is, "They are both pretty wonderful and they cost the same, so you can''t go wrong with either one." If there is some obvious reason to pick one over the other (e.g., your school or company or clients or publisher use it), then it might make sense to just go with that choice.
There are differences, but they''re easy to adapt to. A particular person might prefer the work style of one over the other, though, so my next recommendation would be to try each program and pick the one that feels most comfortable.
It seems pretty obvious that Finale and Sibelius are both quite aware of each other as they offer new features for each subsequent version, and the competition has spurred both of them into making rapid and significant improvements and feature additions over the years.
One of my favorite examples of the feature war was integrating parts into the score rather than extracting them as separate files. Sibelius came up with this excellent idea (called Dynamic Parts) in Sibelius 4 in 2004. Finale included its implementation of a similar feature, called Linked Parts, in Finale 2007.
Another example is a longtime feature of Finale, Scroll View (which allows you to view a score as a continuous ribbon of music rather than in discrete pages). I greatly prefer working in Scroll View in the early stages of a composition. Well, this feature was picked up by Sibelius as Panorama View in version 5.
Finale 2010 added automatic rehearsal letters, something that has been included with Sibelius for quite a while. Both programs have improved their playback sounds: Sibelius included the Kontakt Player for sound playback in version 3 (2003) and added Sibelius Sounds Essentials in version 5 (2007), and Finale included an integrated Garritan Personal Orchestra in 2006. Both programs continue to expand the sound library with subsequent versions. Before these enhancements, General MIDI playback was really not very much fun to listen to.
I think that one small example can give you a feel for how the programs are different. In Sibelius, the default function of the mouse is to move the score around in the workspace. You can select items by clicking on them and regions by selecting one item and shift-clicking a second item to define a region between those two items. (There are other selection techniques as well, such as clicking an empty space in a measure to select that whole measure, or double-clicking to select the entire system on that page, and so on). But you can''t lasso-select a region because that action with the mouse—clicking and moving—will just move the score around rather than selecting items.
Conversely, in Finale, the default function of the mouse is to select objects, not to move the score, so you can lasso-select a region with the mouse (in addition to a variety of other selection methods). But to move the score around in the workspace, you need to select the Hand Grabber Tool and then the mouse will move the score instead of selecting items.
If you are accustomed to lassoing regions from other software, Finale will seem more intuitive at first, and if your instinct is to use the mouse to move objects and the score around, Sibelius will seem more intuitive. Both approaches work fine after you adjust to them.
Obviously, users have benefited greatly from the intense competition between these two programs. My general advice to anyone learning either of these programs is this: Start simple. Don''t try to learn everything at once. Learn new features, one by one, as you need them. And also, you really do need to sit down and learn some of the basic shortcut keystrokes. Both programs allow you to work entirely with the mouse, but to do so is very slow, so learning the keyboard shortcuts right away is worth the small investment in time.