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.
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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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