Apple may have issued iOS 4.2 Gold Master to the developer community, but you don’t need to be a developer to try it out. In fact, your device doesn’t have to be registered in the dev program at all in order to install it. And that, friends, has a lot of people grabbing this sucker and slapping it on their devices.

Now you can wait until Apple officially releases iOS 4.2 to the masses. Or you could load up this pre-launch Gold Master version right now. The process itself isn’t that hard — all you need is the iTunes 10.1 beta and the firmware.

But be warned: If you have a jailbroken and unlocked device, you’ll want to think twice about this. (There’s a jailbreak for it already, yes, but Cydia and other apps don’t work for 4.2 yet. And if you have an unlocked phone, you definitely need to hold off.

There’s no unlock for this yet. But if you’re determined to do this and then jailbreak 4.2 anyway, follow the instructions below and then hit this link for the JB how-to.)

Of course, the requisite warning follows: This procedure isn’t exactly Apple-sanctioned. As such, if you want to give it a try, then you do so under your own risk.

Still here? Okay then, here’s what you do.

How to install iOS 4.2 Gold Master

FYI: This will take some time. Downloading can literally take hours, and restoring will take at least 15 to 20 minutes.

1. Before you do anything BACK THAT DEVICE UP. Yes, it’s so important that it merits all caps.

2. Get the appropriate iTunes 10.1 Beta download for Mac, Windows x86, and Windows x64 at one of these links, and install it. (Just follow the onscreen instructions.)

3. Click to download the iPad IPSW file. (The iPhone 4 version is here. Files for other devices are also listed here.) These are big files and may take quite some time, so be patient.

4. Connect the device to your computer. When iTunes sees it, tap and hold down the Option key for Mac OSX (Shift key for Windows) while clicking on “Restore.”

5. Now select the IPSW file you downloaded. Wait. When all is done, your tablet will be sporting iOS 4.2.

6. To get your apps and settings back, restore your device from the back-up. It should take about 20 minutes or so. Now you’ll have iOS 4.2 along with all your previous apps.

Now Apple doesn’t take kindly to people distributing their software freely, so who knows how long this will be available before Cupertino swoops in and shuts it down. (Some other sites that were offering this have already taken theirs down.)

But for now, anyway, the files are live and online, ready for the downloading. If you do give this a shot, be sure to report back and let everyone know how your experience went and what you think of iOS 4.2 so far.

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