I have access to 3DS MAX 7 at work so most times I use that after job hours when I want to try something. However MAX is VERY expensive for individual to purchase for home use here.
So I was searching some alternative. That was about a year ago. Frankly I was pleasantly surprised that something so mature like blender was free. I read some articles, and googled very positive reviews about the software. However first time I installed blender, it flew to recycle bin right after the first 10 minutes. This thing was completely strange, so far nothing I worked with was similar to this beast. But I like opensource, and I saw some amazing images before done with blender. I gave it some time and prepared my mind for learning. Then I found great article about how blender is designed etc. And idea of constant usage of shortcut keys was very interesting to me as I consider some well designed, keyboard only driven, character interfaces from dos times (like volkov commander) the best user interfaces ever created.
So I downloaded blender tut videos and watched it. Then I tried to change some settings to my liking and practiced some zooming around the box. This new feel of instant control was something amazing to me I was completely excited. So I tried to do some of my lame box modelling but the tools were so strange and everything alien. Plus some things which were vital for me (like smoothing groups, backface culling, rendering of hidden poly lines, add to this some wicked logic behind creating triangular poly etc.) were lacking. On top of that increddible anoyances started to pop up. Every time when you clicked vertex to move it, it was not selected and prepared to be moved but it jumped around by tiny amount. And when you missed some element, crazy mouse gesture jumped in. The last thing that killed me was crazy blender's question whether I am sure, when I tried to delete multiple vertexes, which completely kicked me out of the flow
(in my opinion undo function was designed to revert these things). Now that I call obtrusive. I became completely pissed again.
However that feeling to be able to quickly rotate and manipulate model troubled me. So next time I looked at MAXs help deeply. In about 20-30 minutes I was able to set up similar environment with shortcuts for view manipulation, plus I learned that there are some well thought mesh manipulation shortcuts designed. I tried it. It was very pleasant and fast. Plus no crazy mose gestures kicking into what I want to do
Later I saw my friends who are 3D game artists at work with max. Their setups are very different from how standard MAX looks. And they can work really fast, I saw one 2.5 k poly human head modelled after photograph in about one-two hours completed, with top notch texture mapping (no morph targets of course).
After all this I decided that blender has great potential, but I will wait till it will become more mature. From time to time I download it and try some things but almost always I am stucked behind something. From this I learned one thing, that MAX is quite versatile tool, and can be used really fast. Maybe Maya has same abilities. Yes, these tools look like point and click, but underneath the dumb user friendliness, they seem like really thoughtfully and deeply designed
, at least in some aspects. I guess that things which are used most by customers, (usually artists) are optimized most and others are not that much. But I can clearly tell that somehow I am unable to guess how blender is optimised, for what workflow, and I can tell that I am not alone. Plus even when you say I'ts ounbtrusive this simply not true. I think that interface has amazing potential to make your actions "flow" but the are some unnecesarry hiccups which should be removed and maybe some fast "hint" system designed. Maybe something like ZBrush tooltips are, I really don't know. Entry to blender is really hard for many people, i think even ones willing to learn, anyway that's the reason why I still use MAX.