For example, let's say that we want to scale an image file. That's a fairly common thing to do, so it's probably only one line of code, right? Wrong. It turns out that they haven't even bothered to include a reasonable API for doing this. Instead, you have to take the awkward APIs that they do provide, and then write about 50 lines of code to do what you really want. This article that explains what the "right" way is.
Once the image is scaled, you'll want to save the smaller version too. Luckily, that's only a few lines of code. Of course that's only if you're happy with the default settings -- what if you want to use a different JPEG quality level? Here are the docs -- see if you can figure it out (the solution involves 4 additional classes).
For comparison, here is some Python code which loads an image, scales it, and then saves it at a non-default quality level:
from PIL import ImageDoing the same thing in Java requires closer to 100 lines, not because the language is bad, but because the APIs are terrible.
i = Image.open("/tmp/c.jpg")
i.thumbnail([220, 133], Image.ANTIALIAS)
How did this happen? My theory is that the people who made the Java APIs just sat in a room making stuff up (and possibly drawing UML diagrams). Meanwhile, the Python people were actually writing software and creating libraries to make their life easier.
There is a lesson in this: If you are building a platform, you should also be writing applications for that platform, and the platform should be designed to make life very simple for those apps. It's my understanding that Ruby on Rails came out of a process such as this (they extracted the common tasks out of their web apps). If you just sit around staring at the clouds while writing your APIs, you'll probably end up with something bad.
I also have a second theory about what happened to Java: it attracted people who like to write piles of code filled with endless abstractions. When I worked at Google, one of the engineers on our Java mailing list suggested that we ban the keyword 'new'! I was puzzled by this suggestion, but after a little research I learned that one of the hot fashions in Java is to use factories instead of 'new' (not that factories are bad, but "sometimes good" does not imply "always best"). Better yet, you don't reference the factories directly (not enough abstraction), instead you have some framework that injects the factories into your classes according to what is written in an XML configuration file. In this way, you can make your code perfectly unreadable, but more importantly, it is very abstract.
Update: Several people have interpreted this post to mean that I'm opposed to the factory pattern. That is, of course, silly. Factories, when the situation calls for them, are fine. For example, the python code above is using a factory. What harms code is the blanket application of the factory pattern in every possible situation. To put this another way, Tabasco sauce is delicious on eggs, but I still don't put it on ice cream. (but don't think I haven't tried!)
Update Two: It's not about Java, really! My point here is that your APIs should emerge from the needs of real applications, and that they should make common tasks super-easy. Bad APIs are common in many languages, Java just happens to be the language that I'm using right now.
Why didn't I simply hunt down+install some third-party image library? Because that's a hassle too (probably more work than copying code off of some web page), and all I want is to generate nice looking thumbnails.