Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
The Windows Task Bar is a very flexible piece of screen realestate. There are many things about it you can change, or fix if they change unexpectedly.
My TaskBar is too small to be useful, what can I do?
Your machine is getting more and more powerful which means you can have lots of things running at the same time. That means that there'll be lots of applications listed in your task bar at the bottom of your screen.
Lots of them.
Windows XP has a nice feature on by default that will collapse all the instances of the same program into one button on the task bar, but what if that's not enough? What if each button has become so small that you can't even read what it says anymore?
There's hope. The taskbar is a surprisingly flexible little application all unto itself.
Normally, the default taskbar has three areas: the start button on the left, the task bar itself, showing all the running applications in the center, and the "notification area" with all the small icons and probably the date and time on the right.
The configuration of the taskbar is locked by default to prevent unintentional changes that can render it confusing at best, and useless at worst. The changes we talk about here will definitely be intentional. Unlock the taskbar by right clicking on an empty space within it and deselecting Lock the Taskbar. Now we can make changes.
One of the first things I do on any new Windows XP install is make the taskbar bigger. Yep, bigger. Now that you've unlocked it, click on the very top of the taskbar, hold, and drag it up. Double height works well for me, but you can do more if you like.
You'll notice also that some components of the taskbar now have what look to be bars of divots (for lack of a better term) to their left. Those are handles that you can click and drag on to resize the component. If you click and hold just to the right of these handles you can also move the component around, including placing it on the upper or lower half of a double height taskbar.
Now that you have room to explore, have a look at some of the other toolbars you can place on the task bar by right clicking an empty area on the task bar and selecting Toolbars. You may find some useful and others not. I'm partial to the Quick Launch toolbar. Once you've decided on a set of toolbars to keep you can rearrange them and lay them out in any way you find convenient.
The final customization I'll mention here is the position of the taskbar itself. If you like, click and hold on that empty space and you can drag the entire taskbar to either side of your desktop, the top, or the bottom as well.
I do recommend re-locking the taskbar when you've completed playing with it. It's actually not that difficult to make unintentional changes, and getting rid of the resizing handles will free up just a little bit more space also.
One last suggestion: check what programs run automatically when you start or log into windows. Many will add icons to the notification area, reducing the available space and increasing clutter. Make sure you actually want them.
Video Tip: Customizing the Taskbar. View the video to watch as I make several of the changes I've discussed above.