Seems like you had a really hard time of it at the start. Hardware incompatibilities were definitely a thing back then but you made it worse for yourself by not reading the docs.
I wondered why you kept going after your initial problems. It seems you had no choice:
“I accepted that truth, and realized I had no hope of restoring a Windows install, because I had not been sent a recovery disk with the computer.”
Yeah I can empathize.
I started by learning from a book. I’ve done the distro hopping thing as well. We all go through that phase.
A good read overall