I usually use planar mapping, yeah... Depends on the geometry's shape, of course.
Maya has the Relax UVs that kinda spreads them out evenly. I like to have more control over it though.
From my experience, generally people have a hard time transitioning between Max and Maya and vice versa (as well, I'm sure, for other such programs) because of the fact that people get used to one program and expect another to work exactly the same way.
I know when I've (briefly) messed with Max, I would break out in "Why can't they do it like Maya?" lol
Just be patient.