We had a somewhat bell-like distribution of responses. There were 3 dislikes, 7 middle of the road votes (some "can-go-either-way"s and some "good for small tubes, but that's about it"s), and 3 loves.
I learned something interesting from the dislike votes - I've never had a sewing machine that sits down into a table, so I didn't realize how nice it could be to have a really large flat base for your fabric to lay across. But this (the lack of surface support under the fabric) was the main reason that some people don't really like the free arm.
Lynne gave another reason to dislike the free arm machine - she explained that the needle sits further back, reducing visibility (as compared to an in-table machine.) She finds that it is challenging for her sewing students.
As I said earlier, we had a few people on the other extreme - who love it and use it a lot - and then the majority of the commenters either didn't have a strong opinion or use the free arm just for limited situations (mostly sewing together narrow tubes).
Everyone did agree, however, on the best way to sew narrow tubes together when you don't have a free arm - it is: sew from the INSIDE, not the outside. Mamafitz sent me a link to one of her pictures, illustrating what they mean:
It's funny - when I looked at this picture I realized that, in fact, I do it the wrong way! So, I may keep using the free arm on my sewing machine for sewing 2 columns together, but I really appreciate this advice for my serger, because it doesn't have a free arm. You can bet that I'll be trying this out soon! ;)
Thanks again to everyone who took the time to leave a comment! As always, I love to read your stories and I learn something every time! :)
PS - I'm sorry I've been falling behind on my posts. In addition to general busyness, I've been feeling under the weather, with sinus/sore throat/coughing stuff. But I'm starting to feel better and will try to get back on schedule ASAP. :)