I got word of Cockatrice from a buddy of mine fairly recently and I have just downloaded and started using it.
Long story short, I LOVE it! It downloads pretty quickly and the instant it installs on your computer, it will immediately download the card database for the program. Other programs like Lackey and OCTGN gave me problems when trying to get sets put into the program; Cockatrice seems to avoid that potential mess.
I haven't been able to use the interface too much since I can't seem to find a solo/goldfish mode, but it looks fairly decent.
The one thing that annoyed to no end about MWS (aside from the shuffler) was the fact that it did not support multiplayer games. Cockatrice answers that problem without having to resort to MTGO. It also supports Mac and Linux users as well; another huge plus.
1) Does it allow pictures of the cards? I'm a big fan of that.
Yes, though I think you have to physically download card pictures and put them in the "pics" folder that the program has.
There's also an option where you can download card pictures "on the fly"; the card pictures will be downloaded as you play the cards and they seem to get cached (since I can't find any pictures in the pics file after turning this option on).
2) How readily-available is vital information such as cards in hand, life, etc.?
A screenshot they have on their page shows that it's roughly similar to MWS.
Very nice program indeed. I also like how well it works with MWS files. It can use the pictures folder from MWS and you can import MWS decks (you still have to save them as their own format in order to play with them though).
UAzami, Lady of the Scrolls U Thada Adel, the Acquisitor (Artifact deck) B Geth, Lord of the Vault R Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker G Ezuri, Renegade Leader WU Isperia the Inscrutable (EtB shenanigans) WR Brion Stoutarm (Equipment deck) WUG Angus Mackenzie (Enchantress deck) WRG Mayael the Anima WRG Rith, the Awakener UBR Thraximundar WUBRG Scion of the Ur-Dragon