Task difficulty: hard

I have a 486 laptop with 16 MB of memory. It has no floppy, no CD-ROM, no USB (except through PCMCIA) and only a PCMCIA ethernet card that can’t be booted from. Right now, it has command.com and a few associated .sys files on its 400 MB hard drive.

I want to install Linux on it. Or full-fledged DOS. Or Win 3.1. Or Win NT 4.0. Or something appropriate to a 486, but I’m leaning towards Slackware.

So. Without a bootable drive other than the hard drive, how do I get Linux on it?

The idea came to mind to get a 2.5 inch hard drive adapter and just load the hard drive as a secondary drive in my main laptop or desktop, then install Linux to it from Windows (if such is possible) or at least get some kind of booting Linux root system there. The problem is, I’m not at all certain that I can install Linux like that, and I’m not keen on overwriting the MBR on my laptop or desktop if I screw something up.

If I had a null-modem cable (parallel), I could install drivers to the little beastie or get loadlin on there… or something. With loadlin, I think I could fudge this installation process.

Suggestions? Recommendations? I’m thinking my best bet is going to be to use or get the hard drive adapter, but can I really install Linux to the drive without screwing up what the host system is running?