I think it is great to consider alternative tools to SketchUp for whatever work you do. I don’t really consider Blender a competing product to SketchUp any more than I think of 3DSMax or Maya in that way. Blender is designed to appeal to the same folks who like those big DCC applications. Of course, being free (gratis as well as libre) helps to open it to a wider community than Autodesk will sustain with the tools they sell.
I definitely have a soft spot in my heart for Blender and I always have. Not to brag, but my first experience with Blender was version 1.23 running on an SGI Indigo 2 that I bought (used, cheap) on eBay. I remember having to build it from souce myself, but I could be wrong about that. Somewhere deep in my library is also a copy of Ton Roosendaal’s original Blender manual; graphically beautiful from the height of the ‘deconstructivist’ phase of late-90’s graphic design. More than a little opaque from a learning perspective, unfortunately, but still… beautiful.
Blender is such a unique project in the FOSS community, both in the scope of its aspiration and its longevity in the community. Ton should be sainted for the labor he has put into it over the years. For those who don’t know the history, it is documented here in great detail.
SketchUp’s great strength, I think, remains the simplicity with which hard-surface models like buildings and furniture can be made in it. We all stretch the tools we love in unexpected ways, but at its heart, this is what SketchUp is really best at doing. We aren’t likely to implement a full particle system into it any time in the near future, so you’re going to have to look somewhere else if that is critical to your work.
No creative person should be satisfied knowing or using only a single tool, particularly not if their happiness or livelihood is bound to that tool. Rather, I think you should learn as many different tools as you can, then figure out how to stitch them all together into a unique process that meets your unique needs. You’ll spend an uncomfortable amount of time faffing about with importers and exporters (“why can’t there just be a universal file format?” is a subject for a longer thread than this one…) but in the end you’ll be in a better place.
So, from my perspective at least, this has been a great thread to read.