Back in May 2017 we were introduced to the Skype Meetings App as part of Cumulative Update 5 – an alternative option for clientless users to join meetings through a browser instead of using the traditional Skype Web App. Lets refer to them as Web App (old) and Meetings App (new). Any meetings scheduled using Skype for Business Online now use the Meetings App by default. For on-premises users however, the Web App client will continue to be used until you specify otherwise. I guess the purpose of this post is to help shine a light on the new Meeting App client, because if I’m honest, I haven’t come across a single on-premises deployment where it’s been enabled in place of the Web App. It’s understandable that when new features are introduced by way of cumulative updates they’re not enabled by default – no administrator wants unintended change. But that’s not to say we shouldn’t review any new functionality and enable it in due course if we deem it to be of benefit. I think the Skype Meetings App would fall into this category for a lot of organisations.

Downloadable Clients
Microsoft refer to both the Web App and Meetings App as downloadable clients. They’re browser based meeting applications that you can use to join Skype for Business meetings if you don’t have the Skype for Business Desktop (or other client) available. You can’t schedule Skype meetings from these clients, but you can join meetings that were arranged through Outlook or the Skype for Business Web Scheduler – think of them as recipient only clients that will typically be used by people external to your organisation who don’t used Skype for Business on a day to day basis.

The Technical Difference?
Assuming there are no desktop Skype clients involved; by default when a user clicks a ‘join meeting’ link, they’ll be prompted to join the meeting through the Web App. This plugin is retrieved by the local client from the on-premises Front End servers through web services, and once installed allows the user to use computer audio, video, desktop sharing, presenter controls etc….. all the good stuff. But the point of note is that the plugin is retrieved from the Front End servers.

In contrast, the Meetings App plugin is provisioned by Microsoft themselves through their Content Delivery Network (CDN). The same basic mechanics apply; the user clicks a ‘join meeting’ link, only this time the client will retrieve the plugin from the Microsoft CDN rather than your own Front End servers – this is the first major difference. View this how you will in terms of introducing another cog into the wheel – but for me personally it’s a mute point.

The second major difference is the Meeting Apps support of VBSS (Video Based Screen Sharing), which the Web App doesn’t support. Other than this, if you look at the feature set between the two clients, you’ll see that they’re on parity with each other. Now VBSS is a good read on its own, so to be brief; way back with CU3 VBSS was introduced to improve screen sharing. At it’s most basic, it improves the screen sharing experience through the use of UDP as opposed traditional RDP. VBSS requires that everyone in the meeting be using a client that supports it and that no one in that meeting try to do anything that doesn’t support VBSS, although seamless failback to RDP is available in the event that VBSS cannot be used. I encourage you to read more about VBSS, but the take away is that having a web client that supports this and provides the below enhancements can only be a good thing right?

• Makes screen sharing up to 5% more reliable
• Improved session setup times (50%)
• Improved handling of high motion content
• Improved performance in low-bandwidth conditions
• Seamless failback to RDP as required

In addition to the two major technical differences outlined above, the Skype Meetings App also provides the below functionality and improvements.

• Simplified meeting join experience with 1 click join from IE
• Join meeting audio through PSTN call back (depending on conferencing policy)
• Evergreen client – the latest version of the Meeting Apps plugin is always used
• Optimised screen real-estate
• No administrative rights required for plugin installation
• Sharing controls only activated after promotion to Presenter
• Option to save meeting settings on completion (display name and audio preference)
• Telemetry and call quality surveys (data accessible by only by Microsoft)
• And of course…. support for VBSS

The User Experience?
Experience for end users is only subtly different, and even then its from a cosmetic standpoint rather than a change in ‘how’ you do things. This makes sense given that there’s no telling which client any given company is going to use. Ultimately someone who has used the Web App won’t even flinch if they had the Meeting App dropped in front of them next time around – in fact I’d give them points for noticing. Appearance-wise the Meetings App does look more polished, minimalistic, and corporate in appearance. But in terms of usage and functionality, it’s not even worth performing the comparison.

Summary & Reference
So with the above in mind, it’d take a pretty good case to argue that the Skype Meetings App isn’t an improvement upon the Web App that most on-premises deployments are currently using. After all, it’s the default experience for any meeting that’s hosted in Skype for Business Online. Why isn’t it enabled on the majority of deployments? Beats me, maybe it’s just too much of a small a piece in the monolith that is Skype for Business Server. But remember – those that have the power, have the responsibility (looking at you Skype admin).

Plan for Web Downloadable Clients:

Deploy Web Downloadable Clients:

Video Based Screen Sharing for Skype for Business: