For Windows there are different tools that allow you to place widgets on your desktop. There are for example Yahoo! Widgets, or Samurize. For Linux there is also a tool available to do this, and it's called gDesklets.
Update: The original homepage of the service is no longer available. An archive of desklets is still available on this unofficial website.
You can install gDesklets from you package manager or download the binaries. After installation you can start it from your start menu, it was listed under accessories in my case. You can type gdesklets from the terminal alternatively. After you have started the daemon you get the gDesklets shell with a nice number of available widgets.
There are mostly normal widgets available, like calenders or system information, but also things like verse of the day and dinocam. You can also view a list of availible widgets at the Gdesklets website, the list is located here.
There is also a KDE widget tool called SuperKaramba, but i haven't had the change to test it yet so i cannot say at this point if it's better, but I'll handle SuperKaramba tomorrow and tell which I prefer.
Update: The latest version of gDesklet has been released in 2011, and while that may indicate that the project is dead, it is not clear if that is really the case. For now though you can still download the latest version of the widget engine for Linux from the official website.
I suggest you start with the installation tutorial if you run into issues installing the engine. Please note that it dates back to 2007 so that it may not cover the most recent version in all details.
You also find the list of desklets, widgets that are compatible with the solution, on the site. You can either browse them alphabetically, by date, or category such as news, dictionaries and translations, or internet and email.
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