Thanks for all the input! It's helped a lot. Yeah, I think I should drop books and start making some simple games with C++ and SDL. As for dropping C++ and using a simple language, I think I'd rather take advantage of the huge effort I made when I learnt C++ thoroughy, so that doesn't go to waste.
I just graduated (my professional field has nothing to do with computers whatsoever btw), so in a couple of months I'll start working and I'll buy a laptop with a better GPU. So the OpenGL 2.0 restriction shall fade away soon, I hope. In the meantime I may just take baby steps with SDL + pong / pacman / tetris clones, etc.
Indeed, my goal is actually to turn my game ideas into reality. Therefore I might consider using a game engine, or at least a higher-level graphics engine...
Btw, one of my game ideas was deliberately simple: it's a 2D multiplayer soccer game played online with the mouse + keyboard, like netsoccer (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrzN4_rkziw) and soccer kiekko (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfAd92Eo8Wc). I believe I'd only need to learn SDL and netcode. Am I right?
Again, thanks for all the advice