You think Max's interface is good???????
It's full of a decade of clutter and was kinda clunky back then! Of all the things to praise Max for, UI is certainly not one of them.
I couldn't disagree more. While it might be a bit cluttered I find everything is fairly easy to find and everything is where it would make sense.
I've had to switch to Maya for a project and it just felt like everything was the opposite of what I would expect it to be. Now maybe that's because I'm used to Max but it seemed like if you didn't know the keyboard shortcut for something in Maya you were hooped.
See, of course you are going to favour the application you learned on, it is only human nature.
But Max... first off, I've been using it since 3D Studio for DOS, and most of the same crap is in there still. People don't model in nurbs anymore, and they certainly dont model using metaballs anymore, and yet those tools are still front row and center. Max is in need of a massive house cleaning, purge or hide the shit that hasnt been used since, well... Max 3ish.
Maya when it came out was downright amazing; it was an absolute thing of beauty and made Max look like a toy by comparison. Keep in mind, Maya brought us the QWERTY keyset, the 3d gizmo/widget and the radial context menu. Then to compare Maya 1's shader system to Max's was to compare a rocket scientist to a caveman. That said, Autodesk bought them and it shows... now Maya is as cluttered or more so than Max ever was. Now the "quick" menu is a joke, with about 400 options presented to the user.
Of all of them, I would say pre Autodesk Maya was the best by a mile, followed by Softimage with Max in a distant 3rd ( talking strictly about UI ). I haven't used Softimage in a few versions now, so I have no idea how much Autodesk have messed with it. Softimage was always a bit of an odd duck though.
Wow I never new that QWERTY keyset (love it the keyset!!) came from Maya. I never used the older versions of Maya I have used 3ds Max 9+ and tried maya and found the UI right now in the current version Maya 2010+ to very cluttered more so than 3ds Max. But I'm sure you can customize the UI to not be cluttered as in 3ds Max. I personal feel the 2 programs are basically equal to each-other right now I dont know about back in the early versions. I learning on 3ds Max so that's why I like it better, but really I think its more of a person preference to what you like better (basically equal programs though in the long run).