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Using FDS would be the far easiest way to implement a chat application.
Theoretically you could implement a chat application without FDS by having each client poll the server for messages for new messages for that client using HTTPService or WebService.
You can also do "poor man's data push" using a long-lasting HTTP request - in this pattern each client posts an HTTP request that it doesn't expect and immediate response to - when the server has a message for the client is sends the response (perhaps a long time later). In the client's event handler for the response the client posts another request (so that the server has a means of "pushing" data to the client). This is how Blackberry-style email works in Windows Mobile (in the absence of a proper data push protocol).
Sean Neville's Introduction to the Flex Message Service has a good example of how to write a chat application in FDS.
Graeme Harker's Flex.NET Blog
very useful info - thanks.