Confirming earlier rumors, Microsoft has announced it has reached “release candidate” status with the first service pack for Windows Vista and plans to make it publicly available next week. The company also said it is on track to deliver the final SP1 build in the first calendar quarter of 2008.

Service Pack 1 won’t offer many new features to users. Instead, the update is a collection of bug fixes and improvements designed to fix Vista’s nagging performance problems including long start-up, shutdown and application load times.

Microsoft also recently announced that, with the introduction of SP1, it plans to do away with its so-called antipiracy kill switch. However, it appears that the antipiracy mechanism couldn’t be removed in time for the RC1 release, so pirates will have to wait until RC2 to get their Windows Vista Free Edition.