At the time, Minix was the hobbyist's Unix.
More than that, it was a student's entry-level into studying design of operating system features. The OS came on floppies with a book aimed at undergraduate courses. It was a tool for learning, though, and was most certainly NOT an attempt to make a full-scale Unix-like system (and deliberately kept that way). This page
seems to get the right feel for the environment at the time: A Minix "community" that wanted to make it better for their purposes vs. a professor that wanted to keep it suitable for undergraduate students.
A friend and I were playing with Minix at the time, attempting to add features that made better use of the 386 - such as paging - so as to open up the possibility of porting full Unix command-line tools (it was fun, OK?). I was having a horrible problem with switching into the 386's protected mode ... and recall an email exchange with Linus to find out how the hell he got it to work.
It didn't take long for us to abandon the things we were playing with, and start playing with Linux instead - like a lot of the community.
It just seems a shame to me sometimes that the role played by Unix and its creators, does not always seem to be acknowledged with the emphasis I'd like to see.
I guess we were the generation that got to use
Unix at uni, rather than the one before that got to hack
it together. But it had lost some of that "free" nature that was somewhat part of its growth, and was not free.
As Linus took his first, fateful steps, there was a huge groundswell of people who wanted access to their own Unix system.
A core part of the timing (as that link mentions) was the development of the 386sx chip - which gave us that initial entry point to owning hardware that could run a serious OS (I vaguely recall scrimping quite hard to be able to afford a 386sx with 4MB of memory). We just needed the serious OS to be as cost-effective as the chip...
As for acknowledging, I think that is obvious in hindsight. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and all that...