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apt question

I have a mostly working Linux setup that I have
maintained and upgraded over the years using
sources I've compiled and installed.

I want to use apt so that I can test and checkout
various applications and can remove them easily
if I no longer need, or don't like them.

How can I tell apt/dselect not to mess with the
base system?

What would really be nice is a gui program that
you could just check off the packages that you
don't want touched or upgraded.  I know that 
probably doesn't exist, but just being able to
do it manually would be nice too.

Also is there a option for dpkg that just lets
you test a package?  I sometimes download .debs
and would like to know if they downloaded OK.


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