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In 2000 I used PDF to deliver online help for a Web-based application
because it worked better than the alternatives available at the time.
Today I'd probably use OmniHelp.
Adobe switched from PDF to FlashHelp because it's trying to promote
FlashHelp, so I don't think that says anything about the suitability
of PDF for this purpose. On the other hand, as an end user, when Adobe
used PDF for online help, I found it annoyingly inferior to MS HTML
My personal preference for dealing with special-character issues would
be to install the necessary fonts with the product. However, when I
proposed that for one product, it didn't happen. As I recall, the
product manager didn't want to spend the money to license the font and
the engineers had some security concerns.
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