There was some discussion at Slashdot recently about bloat-free software. Many people were giving examples such as Firefox, Opera, and GIMP. But when it comes to truly bloat-free software, I think NetBSD is a perfect example.
Necessity is part of the reason why NetBSD is bloat-free. A bloated operating system just cannot run on the wide array of vintage hardware that NetBSD supports. So bloat-avoidance is an integral part of their development philosophy.
Furthermore, the NetBSD developers tend to be quite talented. They’re able to write efficient and effective software that does what it needs to with the minimal amount of code. Using C no doubt brings smaller executables and little runtime overhead. Not having the overhead of the C++ runtime, or worse yet a VM in the case of Java, or an interpreter as with Python or Perl, surely helps reduce bloat.
It’s doubtful that a software product will remain relatively bloat-free unless the avoidance of bloat is as critical a factor as it is with NetBSD. The fact that they’ve been able to put together a modern UNIX OS that runs well on systems that are decades old is truly a testament to their developers’ skills and talents.