Why do conference call apps launch a browser to launch the app?
September 22, 2020 1:54 PM   Subscribe

In the wonderful world of COVID we find ourselves in a lot of virtual meetings. Zoom, Webex, Teams, and their ilk. I have meetings in all - and a desktop app installed for all. Every time I click a link to open a meeting, a web browser launches to in turn open the app. It seems like a totally unnecessary step. From a programming standpoint, why is it necessary to do it this way? Why is it better (or necessary) for the web browser to tell the app what to do - shouldn't the calendar invite link be able to send the same info to the app?

It seems like an unnecessary security risk. More steps means more chances for someone with bad intent to hijack the request. Sending the info to a website might allow the info to be intercepted en route. Not to mention the question of whether I should even be allowing my browser permission to launch a locally-installed program AND send it code to tell it what to do upon opening - It might be a bad precedent to set, I can't be sure the info coming from the website isn't malicious. Frankly, I also find it a bit obnoxious - when at work, where Teams and Webex are integrated into my mail/calendar client by corporate, it seems ridiculous that the mail/calendar client can't open meetings in the application directly. I can SCHEDULE Webex or Teams meetings from Outlook, but can't open them without a runaround through the browser?

I'm asking not for a solution, but out of curiosity - why do all the conferencing programs give me the runaround? What technical reasons might there be that requires this?
posted by caution live frogs to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Usually when I click a link for a Skype for Business or Teams meeting that was created in Outlook, I go directly to the meeting in the app.

Occasionally the meetings get set up where they send out the web app link, for people who don’t have the app; in that case, I do get the browser that pops up and asks if I want the browser or the app. It might be OS-specific; Zoom pops up a window before opening up the Zoom app.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 2:01 PM on September 22

What Huffy Puffy said - not all invitees will have the client installed; having the browser mediate means that there's an opportunity to present the browser-based client (which most of the video conferencing solutions provide) as an option.
posted by buxtonbluecat at 2:14 PM on September 22 [4 favorites]

Anecdotally, I have both Zoom and Teams installed on my work PC, but only Zoom opens a browser window when I join a meeting even though Zoom is basically always on in my system tray. One difference is that with Zoom I'm usually calling in to a prearranged meeting that uses a corporate zoom account as a host, but Teams is just a meeting happening in a Teams channel without any "location" or home account hosting it.
posted by LionIndex at 2:24 PM on September 22

I assume the driving factor is the ease-of-use for people who do not have the application installed. Because you have the app installed, you may not notice it, but on that same page will be directions/links to install the app, and/or to use the web-based version without installing. If the link called out to the application directly, there wouldn't be any easy on-ramp for people who don't already have the application. (Or else there would have to be two links, and an explanation of which link to click, which would probably be more confusing.)

Additionally, I have the Webex Desktop client, which gives me an option to join the meeting directly from the client without even going through Outlook, assuming the meeting is on my Outlook Calendar.
posted by yuwtze at 2:36 PM on September 22

I learned not to click the link in Outlook, but go to the calendar in Teams and open it from the app itself.
posted by CathyG at 2:45 PM on September 22 [4 favorites]

yeah, this is just for the benefit of people without the app; if the developers knew somehow that everyone had it installed, they'd just open it directly.

by the way, due to the popularity of this technique, many operating systems have added a way for apps to register themselves to handle web links directly, with no intermediate browser step ("universal links" is the apple term for this, "app links" is the android version, and "web-to-app linking" is what microsoft calls it). according to the microsoft docs, web-to-app-linking only works in the edge browser, though.
posted by panic at 2:51 PM on September 22 [2 favorites]

Another anecdote. I have Zoom installed on my phone and my work laptop. For each Zoom meeting I sight type into my phone the Zoom meeting number and password from the invite so I can use my Bluetooth headphones (no, work won't allow Bluetooth on laptop) for audio, and then I click on the email link to open Zoom on the laptop so I can see the presenter's screen share. I show up under the same name twice under "participants". Today the presenter had to leave so I was made co-presenter, but he made my phone the co-presenter, and I had to use my phone to make my laptop another co-presenter so I could share my screen. This all makes sense 2 decades into the 21st Century, right? (;->)
posted by forthright at 3:09 PM on September 22 [1 favorite]

Fun fact! Zoom used to work exactly the way you describe: clicking the link would immediately open the app and put you into the meeting. The security risk, they found, was that sending out spammy Zoom links could force users unintentionally into meetings (sometimes without any action at all, if their system was setup to invisibly open a link behind the scenes to generate a preview) and suddenly your camera and mic are on in a strange Zoom room.

I agree it’s annoying having to click the “Open Zoom” link anytime I’ve already clicked the meeting link, but, c’est la vie I guess. :)
posted by Zephyrial at 5:48 PM on September 22 [6 favorites]

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