Microsoft changed the way the taskbar works in Windows 7. Among the many changes were options to pin programs and files to the taskbar to improve their accessibility on the system.
Part of the change was a switch from displaying icons and names to only icons by default. This in combination with the fact that icons were stacked on top of each other, say two icons for two explorer windows open on the system, freed up a lot of space on the taskbar.
On Vista and earlier, you often ran into issues that the taskbar was not wide enough for all the open folders and programs. On Windows 7 and newer, I never used more than half the available taskbar space due to the changes made by Microsoft.
That does not mean that you cannot go back to the old way of displaying icons and names in the taskbar instead.
To do so, you simply right-click on the taskbar and select properties from the menu. Here you switch from the "always combine, hide labels" default to either never combine or "combine when taskbar is full".
If you select one of the two options that are not default, you will notice that icons and labels are displayed again. There is however no option to "never combine" and only show icons.
Thankfully though there is an easy way to fix that as well. It does involve editing the Registry though so make sure you create a system restore point prior to following the guide outlined below (for instance with System Restore Point Creator or manually).
- Tap on the Windows-key, type regedit and hit enter.
- If you get an UAC prompt, accept it.
- The Windows Registry Editor opens.
- Use the folder structure on the left to navigate to the following key: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics
- Check for MinWidth on the right side after you have selected WindowMetrics.
- If you don't see it there right-click, select New > String Value and name it MinWidth.
- Double-click MinWidth afterwards and change its value to 54 if you display large buttons or 38 if you display small buttons. If you don't know, check the properties window again. If use small icons is selected you use those.
- You may need to experiment with the values if they don't fit perfectly.
- Restart the PC, or log off and on again.
Note that this cuts off the label part of the button only.
As you can see, it is not a perfect solution but it works considerably well.
You can undo the change at any time by deleting the MinWidth preference in the Windows Registry.
Note that you can use the the same preference to change how much of a label is displayed to you in the Windows taskbar. Simply experiment with different values greater than the ones mentioned above for that.
If you prefer that each folder and program is displayed individually on the taskbar so that you can access it right away without having to hover over an icon stack, but don't like the labels attached next to each individual representation, then this helps you achieve that goal.