When do you think VB.NET will be a retail product and how much time should I devote to using the beta to be reasonably prepared when it comes out?
All indications are that Microsoft will release VB.Net before the end of the year. I expect to see Beta2 go public within the next couple of months and word is that all features will be frozen at that time.
The second part of your question is harder since what "reasonably prepared" means varies greatly depending on your role. In general, I recommend experimenting with the Beta version until you feel comfortable with the new IDE, have a general overall understanding of the system namespaces, and can use VB.NET's new inheritance features. That should give you a solid foundation to build on once it is officially released.
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