Microsoft's Windows Product group has announced that Service Pack 1 for Vista is at the finished stage - or has been released to manufacturing in Microsoft parlance. The RTM stage has been reached for the first set of languages (English, French, Spanish, German and Japanese),

Microsoft says it will begin to release the Service Pack in those languages through Windows Update in mid-March. The reason for the delay is that Microsoft wants to work with a few hardware partners to sort out "an issue with a small set of device drivers".

Initially SP1 will be delivered only to PCs without the affected drivers installed - though you will be able to force an update and reinstall any problematic drivers. The pack will be available as a single download from Microsoft's Download Center.

Mike Nash from the Windows Product group decided to state the obvious in a blog post to announce the event: "Service Pack 1 is a very important milestone because it addresses many of the key issues that our customers have identified with Windows Vista over the last year."

Nash went on to say that SP1 makes great strides in "performance, reliability and compatibility." Let's hope so, for (unpatched) Vista does seem to struggle with the most unlikely tasks - file copying for example. Nash also adds that his own SP1-patched PC is running "faster and more reliably" - up to 50 per cent faster in some "scenarios", according to Microsoft's own tests. Recovery from sleep mode as well as network file copying are specific issues dealt with by the Service Pack.

Let's hope it's the same for all of us, too.

Fixed drivers to unlock SP1

So what will happen to those people with problematic drivers? "[If a] system that Windows Update determines has a driver known to not update successfully will not get SP1 automatically.

"As updates for these drivers become available, they will be installed automatically by Windows Update, which will unblock these systems from getting Service Pack 1. The result is that more and more systems will automatically get SP1, but only when we are confident they will have a good experience."

78,000 devices and components are now supported for Vista by Windows Update, up from about 34,000 in November 2006.