Bluestar Linux makes Arch Linux easy and beautiful

Here's an introduction to an Arch-based Linux distribution that can be enjoyed by users of all skill levels.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
Woman facing a desktop on a table
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Arch Linux is well known for being one of the more complicated distributions on the market. Although not on the level of Gentoo's difficulty, Arch does pose many a challenge for those new to the world of Linux. 

However, several developers in the Linux community saw what the combination of Arch and a user-friendly experience could deliver. Since that moment, there have been plenty of Arch spinoffs aimed at making the distribution accessible to more and more users

One of those spinoffs is called Bluestar Linux and makes Arch Linux very simple and beautiful to use. The goal of Bluestar Linux is to create an operating system that provides a wide range of functionality and ease of use, without sacrificing aesthetics. There are three different "flavors" of Bluestar Linux:

  • Desktop: For basic desktop use
  • Deskpro: For more advanced desktop use
  • Developer: Tailored for developer usage

Also: How to choose the right Linux desktop distribution 

Bluestar Linux uses the KDE desktop environment and, depending on the flavor you choose, will be a basic KDE desktop or a more advanced version. For example, on the Deskpro installation I tested, the KDE desktop includes a live desktop dashboard (a Konky) showing system usage, as well as a weather gadget, desktop icons for specific folders, a desktop pager, and a Pantheon-like dock at the bottom of the screen.

The Bluestar Linux desktop.

Bluestar Linux is a beautiful take on Arch.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

There's one rather tricky part about the Deskpro desktop that users might not be aware of. If you examine the Latte Dock at the bottom of the screen, you'll notice there is no application menu button. Without an application menu, how do you open the apps you want to use (that aren't already added to the dock)? If you hover your cursor at the top center portion of your screen (right at the edge), you'll see a bluish glow. Keep edging your cursor up and another dock will appear. At the left edge of the new dock, you'll see the application menu button. Click that to reveal the menu.

The Bluestar Linux top dock.

The Bluestar Linux auto-hidden top dock contains the Application Menu.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

What is it with the dark themes?

Something I've never quite understood is the whole dark theme trend. Yes, it's all a matter of taste, so my penchant for lighter themes does not mean it's the best opinion. But the Bluestar Linux dark theme is jarring. When you see that pillar of white against the nearly all-black system theme, it makes it hard to work. Discerning toolbar icons can be a bit tricky as well.

The Bluestar Linux dark theme.

The Bluestar dark theme is a bit much.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Fortunately, to switch from the dark theme, just open System Settings and then go to Appearance. Locate a theme that better suits your taste and, when prompted, click Apply. You can now close the System Settings app and enjoy that lighter theme. 

Also: The best Linux distros for beginners

Updates and software installation

System updates are easily available to the Bluestar Linux user, via the hidden top dock. If you reveal that dock, you'll see a blue A. Click that to open the Updates notification window that will include an Update System button. Click that button to open the Kalu upgrader tool. Click Upgrade System and the upgrades will begin.

The new software installation was where I ran into my first issue. The Arch Linux GUI tool for installing software is Octopi, which is found in Application Menu > System > Octopi. The app to install apps would not start. When I attempted to run Octopi from the command line, I received a symbol lookup error.

What does that mean? Well, until the fix for that issue is made available by way of a system upgrade, the only way to install applications is via the command line. For example, if you wanted to install the Audacity audio editing tool, you would issue the command:

sudo pacman -Sy audacity

New users don't want to have to do that. The problem is known, it's just not fixed. Until then, I don't know if I could recommend Bluestar Linux to anyone that isn't comfortable using the command line. I do expect this issue will be ironed out soon, so even if you've installed a version of Bluestar that suffers from the problem, an upgrade or two will probably resolve the issue.

Also: How to install Linux applications from the command line


Beyond the Octopi issue, I've found Bluestar Linux to perform quite well. Not only do applications open quickly, but I can also run the Firefox browser with plenty of open tabs and work with other installed apps without the OS batting an eye. As well, I've not run into a single stability issue. Bluestar Linux is as predictable as it is performant, even with full desktop animations and effects at play.

Also: The 3 tiers of Linux difficulty: Quickly assess which distro is for you

Who is Bluestar for?

Bluestar Linux might not be perfect, but it's a very solid entry in the desktop Linux space. This distribution would be a great option for anyone who likes the idea of combining the rock-solid nature of Arch Linux with the user-friendliness of Kubuntu or KDE Neon. Even with the Octopi issue still at large, I've found Bluestar Linux to be a real gem of a desktop operating system. No matter if you're new to Linux or have been around the open-source block a time or two, I'm confident Bluestar will make a great desktop operating system for just about anyone.

Just remember, if you experience the same Octopi issue, check for daily upgrades and hopefully the developers will resolve an issue that could be deal-breaking for some.

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