30 Things You Didn't Know You Could Do on the Internet
Desktop Info: Webify Your Desktop
Why venture out on the Net when it can come to you? You can festoon your desktop with "widgets" that pull information from your favorite Web sites.
The best-known widget program is Pixoria's Konfabulator ($25). [Editor's note: Yahoo bought Konfabulator in July 2005 and now offers it for free. Download a copy here.] It comes with more than a dozen prefab widgets, which run the gamut from practical (clocks, stock tickers, battery and Wi-Fi monitors) to whimsical (a "werewolf" widget that displays the phases of the moon). But the real widget wonderland is Pixoria's site, where users contribute their own creations for free. Here you'll find traffic and surf cams, train schedules, radio and RSS tuners, meters that display the locations of the cheapest gas in your area, an English-to-Swedish translator, a haiku generator, a Shakespearean Insult Kit, and the unblinking red eye of the HAL 9000 computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey, complete with sound bites. And all that is just for starters.
To add a new widget to your desktop, right-click the Konfabulator icon in your system tray and select Open Widget. To download more items from the site, select Get More Widgets. To view all your widgets at once, select Konspose. It doesn't get much simpler.
Stardock's DesktopX 3 ($15) features 23 widgets, including a language translator and an applet that can fetch the lyrics of virtually any song you might have a hankering to hear. The Standard ($25) and Professional ($70) versions come with tools that let you build your own widgets or overhaul your entire Windows desktop. Another place to find free stand-alone widgets, from clocks and calendars to abstract art generators, is at the Freeware Guide.