Can someone comment on the learning curve on the software? For instance, LR. For a total newbie, is it difficult to use? if so, what is the best way to learn the software?
For Lightroom, the big part of the "learning curve" is to me learning a good "workflow" that incorporates the organizational tasks as well as the development tasks. I recommend getting one of the Lightroom "primers" by Scott Kelby, Victoria Bampton or Martin Evening. Work through one (or more) of the books completely and you should be in good shape. I gather that maybe only Victoria has the LR4 version out, but for most things the LR3 version would be very good.
As to the image development/processing, again one of the books, but there are many online resources as well giving pointers in using Lightroom, and really it can be quite quick to get "up to speed".
Photoshop is a much more complex program and will be a much longer process to learn its various features and tools, although you can get "started" pretty quickly with a few tasks.
For both Lightroom and Photoshop a good step would be to go to either Lynda.com or KelbyTraining.com and sign up for an "essentials" course.
in reading the responses, i gather that for standard editing for IQ, LR or PS will work but for RETOUCHING images, PhotoShop is the preferred software?
thanks for the responses
It depends on what you mean by "retouching". Lightroom can do a whole lot, but for some tasks you will need an app like Photoshop. Many people do the great majority of their work in Lightroom but at least have Photoshop Elements on hand.