I tried a Houdini demo a while back because I was really wanting more control in my particle work.
Unfortunately, I could get Houdini to crash rather frequently from doing simple tutorials.
I have a very low tolerance for crashing applications.
Perhaps it's gotten better since then.
Give it another shot. I find Houdini to be very stable. A lot of the stability is related to your OS and graphics card. Houdini has some very specific requirements, and the lower end cards and older OS's just can't handle the program that well.