The primary aim of the Gtk+2 panel project is to provide a panel that reuses whatever is available (if it is not overkill) in the obvious way, such as subclassing GtkWidget instead of implementing applets, or by using a GtkBuilder file instead of defining a new format to customize the panel. This approach gives some additional advantages for free: you can use common tools in uncommon ways. Above all, you can use Glade to design your own panel. All the dependencies apart from GTK+ are (and hopefully will be) optional.
Compa is a GNOME panel applet which can display the output of any system command on the panel. It can also display the output of a different command in its tooltip, and launch a different command when clicked. The text style can be modified using the Text Attribute Markup Language.