Originally Posted by owlfish
@Erik_FL - I don't have any installation disks because the computer came as-is, which was what made me think of Linux as the only alternative.
@Alten - I'm not entirely sure if the computer is working OK under '95. Mostly that's my bad because back when '95 was new I wasn't old enough to be able to remember how it looks when it works. But I do know that it seems to have lost internet capability, and has never run any antivirus...it's very hard for me to tell if it could be malfunctioning or just slow.
Would I be able to burn a CD-ROM of my chosen distro, or would it require a floppy disk? Because if it would have to install from floppy disks I would need to order them because I don't have another floppy drive to create the disk with.
As long as your computer will boot from CD you can create a CD-ROM. Some really old computers can't boot directly from a Linux CD (nor a newer Windows CD).
Many Linux distros have kernels too large to boot from floppy disk. You can build smaller kernels but that requires another computer running Linux (or a virtual machine program running Linux on Windows).
A trick you can use with older computers is to make a floppy emulation boot CD that appears as a floppy disk. In your CD burning program tell it to create a boot-able CD and then select the floppy disk image file as the boot image. Put any other files that you want on the CD, but all you will see when you boot the CD is what's on the floppy image. If the floppy image can access a CD drive then it can mount the CD to read the other files. Linux can usually mount CDs with no problems. Windows 95 uses DOS for booting and might require a special CD-ROM driver that you don't have.
You can create a floppy image file using a virtual machine program running Linux on some other computer, or using the loop-back driver in Linux on some other computer. You may also be able to download floppy image files for some Linux distros.
Windows 95 uses a boot floppy and has no CD-ROM drivers. You have to provide the correct DOS CD-ROM driver for your computer. The setup files for Windows 95 are on a CD-ROM. There was a version of Windows 95 with all the files on floppies but I've never seen that myself.
Windows 98 has a floppy emulation boot image on the Setup CD, and can boot directly from the Setup CD in addition to booting from a Setup floppy. Windows 98 includes some CD-ROM drivers but a few strange drives require special DOS drivers. Older Acer CD-ROM drives are an example. Many CD-ROM drives work with the included drivers.
You might also have problems finding the Windows 95 drivers for a really old computer. Linux generally has drivers for very old computer hardware so it's less of a problem. Many computers require additional drivers that aren't on the normal Windows CD.
For some strange reason I've often had better luck finding Windows NT 4.0 drivers than Windows 95 drivers. In a few cases there were Windows NT 4.0 drivers but not Windows 98 SE drivers.
If you're even considering buying a used Windows Setup CD, get Windows 98 Second Edition. Be careful to get the second version of Windows 98, not the first version of Windows 98. The second version always says Second Edition or "SE". That will usually work better than Windows 95 and supports a lot more hardware without extra drivers. You would probably be better off to buy a used computer that includes the license certificate, CD key, and discs for Windows XP.
I generally don't try to do anything with computers that have less than 512 MB of RAM and a CPU slower than 750 MHz. I've mostly used Windows 98 Second Edition and Windows NT 4.0 on computers slower than that or when they have less memory. With really tiny amounts of RAM (32 MB or 64 MB) I've usually found that I have to stick with Windows 95 or Windows NT 4.0 and Linux or 98 SE doesn't run very well. 128 MB to 256 MB is more suitable for GNOME Linux distros or Windows 98 SE. More than 256 MB usually runs Windows XP and KDE versions of Linux pretty well.
On some older computers it just comes down to experimentation. I've often had to try a few different operating systems to see which one works the best and has available drivers. If you want mostly server functions and not games, audio and video features then Windows NT 4.0 (Workstation or Server) is a solid choice for really old computers. You can install CYGWIN and run many text based Linux programs too.