I have had that happen as well. But, rather then getting new hard drives, what I did was obtain a copy of the drive manufacturers, hard drive tools. This let me do a low level format and regular format so that windows would be able to use the drive again. Of course, that wipes EVERYTHING from the disk.
Assuming what you have are ISO's (image file of a cd), you need to burn the iso to a cd as an image not as a file. This will create the file structure on the cd for you. Almost all linux iso's are bootable. You then have to go into you bios and specify first boot device to be cdrom. I usually set first cdrom, second floppy and third the hard drive I have os on (for installing anyways, after I am done I make the hd be the first.)
I would also suggest looking for information regarding drivers for the laptop using 98 BEFORE you install linux. Two reasons. If you mess up windows while installing linux, you can still get linux running. 2nd reason, it is a pain in the ARSE to switch back and forth between linux and windoze constantly.
I am a linux newbie myself but a few years ago i had played with it a bit (wish I could remember all that crap) I my memory serves me right mandrake had the easiest install and was most user friendly. Redhat was a bit more complicated to install. But that was years ago and probably has changed by now.
For some reason I am here again trying debian this time. I must be the type of person that likes stress
EDIT: P.S. If I also remember correctly redhat will ask you if you wish to make a boot floppy or use lilo for booting. And don't quote me on this but it seems lilo worked fine with 98.