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There is an issue that hasn't come up yet: why does a professor recommend a certain text for a class instead of the students buying the textbook that they like best? After all, for each kind of course the various publishers each have a textbook on offer.

Here's the dirty secret: with the teacher's edition there comes access to the solutions and a bank of exercises and test questions. If there's a set text it's likely that the students pay for the convenience of whoever teaches the class.

Nothing prevents you from reading any textbook you like. But, among many reasons why there's a standard text, is so that you can tell the students "Read chapter 5 about fluid dynamics, it's on the exam." Then after the exam, nobody can complain "my textbook didn't cover the same material, you need to adjust my grade".

What's dirty or secret about that?

If your instructor uses Tanenbaum's perfectly good question about page eviction strategies from "Modern Operating Systems", rather than writing (and debugging) essentially the same question over again, they can spend more of their time talking to you and helping you.

Also, some set texts are really excellent, and the instructor would not be able to produce as good a resource themselves. Some people are better teachers, others writers. Writing good, unambiguous questions that produce decent answers is much harder than it sounds.

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