Get a Glimpse of Unstable Apps in Ubuntu Without Risk

by Ostatic Staff - Jul. 23, 2011

Sergey "Shnatsel" Davidoff posted today that Alpha testing has just been revolutionized. Sounds exciting, huh? It really is. Glimpse allows users to test new or unstable updates without risk of breaking their current installs.

As Davidoff introduced it:

Imagine you can try the absolutely latest version of any app, on your real data, safely, side-by-side with the stable version, without manual compilation, rebooting, virtualization and whatever else, in a few clicks. Sounds good? Sounds awesome to me. And now, it's real.

He says all that's needed is an ISO of Ubuntu Oneiric. "Then, after a one-time setup, viola! You can test any unstable apps, fully integrated into your desktop, not interfering with the stable versions of themselves."

Glimpse sandboxes these risky applications in their own directory. It can read your data, but any writes stay corralled in their sandboxes. "Your real files on your system are left intact. And if you break some files in the sandbox, you can simply purge the modifications made in it and start over."

Davidoff goes on to explain briefly how this is possible. He says all the pieces were already there, he just had to "connect the dots." Some of these dots include:

1. zsync to download only those parts of ISO that have changed instead of pulling the whole 700Mb monster every time

2. chroot for creating an isolated environment (instead of virtualization)

3. Ubuntu Customization Kit and its awesome library to avoid reinventing the wheel

4. Launchpad Recipes to get the absolutely latest code built, packaged and gift-wrapped
5. AuFS to be able write to home directory and keep the real files intact

6. Gaffel and Zenity to have a simple GTK2/GTK3 user interface

Glimpse supports Ubuntu and Elementary OS for now and can't access encrypted data yet.  More information and a instructions are at Davidoff's site. If you like skating on the bleeding edge, you can now do it more safely.