Commentators are spilling a lot of ink about this question, and certainly a lot can be said. Here are a few thoughts that come to my mind; please add what you think about it.
Up to now we've only known Cardinal Ratzinger as head of the CDF. In that capacity, he had a job to do and he did it. He himself would have preferred to be free to work on developing his own theological writings. Instead he had to be concerned with ensuring doctrinal integrity. What we don't know is Ratzinger as pastor and bishop. He might very well surprise people by his pastoral sense. He's not John Paul and we can't expect him to be. But the reports are that on a personal level he is very gracious and warm.
This might sound like a crude political analogy, so please excuse that, but it's a comparison that may shed some light on his election. Bush won the election last year because he followed Karl Rove's advice to energize his base. He didn't spend time trying to attract voters who would not like him anyway. Perhaps the cardinals are signaling that the time has come for the Church also, in a similar way, to energize its base. The Pope needs to make it clear to committed Catholics that he supports them in their efforts to live faithful lives of discipleship. I don't mean to imply that John Paul didn't. Pope Benedict made it clear in his first homily that he wants to continue ecumenical dialogue, etc. But he's not going to change Church teaching on controversial matters in order to try and attract people who would not accept those teachings anyway. That might mean having a smaller flock, but one that is more committed. No one wants to see people go away and leave the Church. It breaks my heart to see that. But it must have broken Jesus' heart to see many of his disciples leave him after he gave the discourse on the bread of life (John ch. 6). But he let them go. He didn't call them back and say, "I didn't really mean what I said." It was a hard saying, and people left because of it. That's free will. God respects the freedom we all have to accept or reject the message. But he's not going to change the message.