In defense of pdf help systems

Subject: In defense of pdf help systems
From: "Mark X. Dempsey" <mxd2 -at- OSI -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 16 Jul 1999 11:03:10 -0700

After reading "I personally don't like PDF as a delivery format. It
strikes me as cheap, lazy, and technophobic" this money-saving,
non-energy-wasting, late adopter of technology feels he must respond.

We're putting out our online manuals in pdf format, and find they are an
excellent replacement for online help. We've experimented with
cross-platform/cross-browser help and discarded all the alternatives as
buggy, not-ready-for-prime-time kluges that don't deliver information
any better, and are a lot harder to maintain.

PDF is by far the easiest way to get information out cross-platform. PDF
is not a good replacement for context-sensitive help systems, but who
cares? Despite the dancing paperclips, I've never used a
context-sensitive help system that's better than an index. Most of the
time it's just annoying.

Since, directly from Framemaker, I can generate index and TOC that is
links in pdf (and since I can automatically generate dictionary
thumbtabs too), our pdf system gives access to a darned good index as
immediately as any help system I've ever seen.

Some previous poster complained that Acrobat was slow to load. We have a
22M file that loads as fast as much smaller ones. Perhaps it's not as
quick as Microsoft's help because it has to load a separate application,
but it'll do.

This is not to say I admire Acrobat's help (it sucks!), or FrameMakers
(not in pdf, it's in FrameViewer).

Nevertheless, with some clever formatting (better than Adobe's, I say),
and a little luck, I'm very proud of our PDF online docs.

I now retire to rest on my laurels and count all the money I've


-- mailto:Mark -dot- Dempsey -at- osi -dot- com
-- Mark Dempsey
-- Technical Publications
-- Objective Systems Integrators
-- 110 Woodmere, Folsom, CA 95630
-- 916.353.2400 x 4777

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