First off...Welcome Aboard! Be sure to open a thread in the introduction forum.
I can't answer your question(s) on Fractal Mapper as I do not use it - I'm sure someone who does will be along shortly.
As for favored software, well that's a matter of preference, availability, $$$, etc. I started out using GIMP (can't beat the price - FREE!), then I later moved to Photoshop when I was fortunate enough to get a copy very cheaply - so that is my current preference. But if you're just starting out and don't have much money to spare then I would recommend GIMP.
P.S. Very cool avatar