You can't use numbers in your name, so they are a bit more unique (though many people do Xx Name Here xX). ANet originally said that late 09-early 2010 would be the release date time, but with all the beta delays it's probably going to be pushed back a bit. So if you were to buy the deluxe edition now, you would easily have a year to play it, and get the other campaigns as well if you liked Prophecies and GW:EN enough.
They'll release when they realize the pressure to get it out before diablo 3 no matter how good or bad it may be. --- http://mikelikes.net/ latest entry "Games for the rest of 08" Currently listening to: nothing
Companions actually look as though they won't kill pugging entirely. You can bring one per party member and they don't take up a slot, but they've said that you will be made more powerful via a buff of some sort if you decide not to use one. They've also said difficulty (and possibly loot) of areas would be tied to how many players enter it.
It remains to be seen how it turns out though, they've also said that most areas are still going to be designed so you can complete them solo if you want to. Depending on how they implement it, it looks like farming would be better in groups, so you may see parties of bots entering areas once farming methods are found. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
The fact that you can solo with much more ease than in GW will probably kill groups. Personally, if I can get through an area all on my own without having to look around for a group, I'd much rather do that. Why depend on other people when I can do things as a buffed solo player? I'm assuming this would be the mindset of many people. Of course, there would be times that I'd want the community aspect...it will be an MMO after all.