Hard shadows destroy realism. It's a matter of fact, they look too unnatural, expecially if the rest of the scene appear softly shaded and we overlap a simulated cone of light.
Plenty of solutions have been proposed. Furthermore, Nvidia cards are so smart that they automatically apply the percentage closer filtering on shadow maps. ATI cards don't, but proposed a pretty way to implement it (by using their proprietary multiple fetching primitives).
I don't want to use proprietary features, which could lead to unexpected situations, so I took the decision to try something new: by using stencil buffers, I'm gonna separate "potentially shadowed" texels and blur them, with some kind of convolution filter:
Pros: it's REALLY fast (dirt work is done via fragment shader), it's lightweight (just an additional RGB texture is required), and it's image-space based, so I don't need to program lighting equations for each texture unit in the shader!
Cons: additional rendering steps are needed, one for each light; self-shadowing artifacts are supposed to emerge and there's no difference between shadows near and far away from light (which is best aspect of smarter algorythms like PCSS or VSM).
We'll see. In the meanwhile, I express my disappointment for ATI's engineers who didn't really implement glConvolution*D() in their drivers :| .