Hiding for space
Fortunately, the taskbar doesn't need to be there at all and can be dismissed and summoned at will. Here's how to do that in Windows 7 and 8.1.
Right-click on the taskbar and in the menu that appears, select Properties. Under the Taskbar tab—which should be the first open tab you see—check the box next to Auto-hide the taskbar.
Then click Apply and OK. During this process, your taskbar may disappear and reappear a couple of times. Eventually, however, it should slink away into the bottom of your screen patiently waiting to be called upon.
Bringing back Windows XP's taskbar
Since Windows 7, the taskbar condenses all the open windows for one program under a single icon called a taskbar button by default. If you have three Word documents open, you'll see just one Word button. Hover over that icon and you'll see three mini-previews for each open window.
There's an easy way to get that behavior back in newer versions of Windows. Again, right-click on the taskbar and select Properties.
Under the Taskbar tab look for the Taskbar buttons setting. Click the drop-down menu to the right of that setting and select Never combine, or Combine when taskbar is full for a more practical approach.
Then click Apply and OK as before and you're done.