Depends on the de you use. Gnome uses gnome-volume-manager, kde4 uses a different method.In order to get automounting with xfce you have to tweak thunar and ivman. LXDE only automounts if you have the newer pcmanfm and gvfs.
Most window managers do not automount.
You can disable automounting easily enough. No need to try to remove hal.
personally I am with the OP on the issue, I would rather mount thing myself. which is why I do not have gvfs installed.