"What Linux distribution should I use?"
I'm at the breaking point. My Pentium I non-internet computer has hit the 8GB HDD limit. Flashing the BIOS is risky. I have a spare Pentium III machine but apparently Windows O/S HDDs can't be plunked into a new system so easily. I can't reformat/reinstall the system. So I'll have to search high and low to find drivers for an obsolete (1996) O/S that is increasingly incompatible with shareware/freeware programs. I can't even find up-to-date anti-virus software for my system.
I read somewhere that Linux can read HDDs larger than 8gb even if the computer's BIOS won't. I've also read that you can test-drive Linux before installing it on your system.
My system is not and will never be connected to the internet. Despite the use of WINNT 4.0, my computer is not on a server.
Any Linux installation-
-MUST be 100% DOS compatible and swap in and out of DOS without rebooting. If the program runs in DOS 6.2 then it must run in Linux.
-SHOULD be compatible with Windows freeware/shareware programs that can run in any version of Windows (Windows 95 to Windows 10). I've heard that WINE emulators require too much space and are buggy. Don't know if Virtual Machine software is what I need.
-I assume that the Linux distribution must have 16-bit Windows and 16-bit / 32-bit DOS application compatibility
-read/write CD/DVD preferably NERO or NERO compatible
-CD/DVD multimounter support - so that I can see past versions of files in the CD/DVD ISO file with the click of a button
-100% reliable read/write USB 1.1 flashdrive support
-flash repair & retrieving files from damaged flash drives and flash drives that won't mount, i.e. Alcor utilities, etc.
-100% reliable formatting of unused disk space on multiple drives past 8GB
-support extended/logical drive partitions
-parallel-port printer support
-floppy drive support
-SVGA driver support, 65K colors (that's what WINNT 4.0 gives me)
-play & edit audio files. WINNT's antiquated mplayer.exe can't play MP4 or MOV files and the sound mixer won't let me change bass/treble settings.
-generic mouse and keyboard (small plug)
-support hdd editors, i.e. diskedit, testdisk, etc.
-read html files
-read PDF; even better if it can edit PDF files but not the end of the world if it can't. WINNT 4.0 chokes on anything newer than PDF 1.4
-Smart HDD monitoring utilities
-File change monitoring utilities
-run batch programs/macros
-frequently used Microsoft Windows commands: chkdsk, scandisk, fc (file compare), windiff, diskedit, notepad/wordpad with MS-DOS encoding support (as opposed to ansi or UTF or unicode), File Manager, Disk Administrator, mspaint/pbrush, mplayer, Windows Task Manager, Event Log (system and application), Zip, F3 Find command
-any ol' browser comparable to IE Explorer 6 (2001) on a non-internet system
Some of these are no doubt (laughably) obvious, but I'm new to Linux, so...
I don't want a large O/S. Space is at a premium. WINNT 4.0 is 250MB and XP is at least 1.5GB.
Other Pentium I specs
200 MHz CPU
Other Pentium III specs
255M extended ram
0256 cache sram
800 MHZ CPU
"What do you do with this PC? Do you just surf the net, some email, watch a few movies or do you play games, and use virtual-machines?"
No internet, no email, no movies, no games, no virtual machines (unless this refers to DOS & Windows emulators). No interest/memory/disk space. Also no modem.
"Do you want a distribution that's easy to configure or do you want something a little more challenging?"
Not sure. I can easily edit partition tables, registry settings. But I have no experience with Linux. Right now I just want access to the post-8GB portion of the hdds.
"Do you want a distribution for which there is a decent amount of help out there in terms of forum support and tutorials, or do you prefer to research and work things out for yourself?"
I'm using Windows NT 4.0 (1996) in 2018. As long as Linux isn't even worse...
"Do you want a distribution that looks more like Windows or are you okay with a different look?"
I'd prefer something that looks more like Windows, but it's not a deal breaker. Start Menu, taskbar, right-click on files to get properties, sorting files by creation/modification-date/size/location, booting in safe VGA mode, "print screen" command, etc. OTOH, I will not miss WINNT's rigid control over direct access to hardware.
If Linux isn't what I'm looking for, what other dos/windows-compatible stripped-down GUI O/S exist?
Thanks to one and all who respond.