The argument being, of course "are free to play browser games necessarily hateful to traditional gamers?" The Settlers Online is taking a beloved strategy name and affixing all manner of new business models to it, but is the ol' Blue Byte spirit safe and sound in there or has it entirely gone over to the microtransaction dark side? You can find out right now, as the open beta's just gone live. Miracle of miracles it doesn't require a Facebook account, though that is an option. Seems primarily bound to Ubisoft's UPlay system, which fortunately I was already signed up for or I might have screamed at the sight of yet another registration page. And lo, it loaded in my browser, and it looked quite nice.
As to Settlers Online's place on good-evil spectrum, it's too early to say. I've been at it about 20 minutes so far, and it's glacially slow, has quite a few resource types and micromanagent screens, a little overcomplicated and well.. like the Settlers in many respects. Which is good. But...
Well, aside from the fact that loads has changed from the trad. Settlers formula (e.g. roads are purely decorative) it's hung around XP gain, I'm being given spurious rewards for stuff like logging on, the UI is littered with ways to buy things and add Friends, so I'm guessing I'm going to hit a brick wall of progress and have to either wait or splash out if I want to continue. 'Building Licenses' is the most obvious so far, but it isn't a mad click-fest, it isn't cursed with the hideous Farmville 'energy' system that monstrously curtails how much you can actually do on top of whether you can afford it, plus the buildings don't all do essentially the same thing as they do in 'Ville games.
As far as I can tell, you do need to construct a proper working economy and that requires time and planning: it's just a matter of how much can be done for free, and how obnoxious or understanding the game is encouraging spending. Oh, and there's an MMO-style general chat, so you're not locked out from actual communication as in Facebook games.
Short story then: don't think it's a catastrophic disservice but it is certainly pursuing stuff we've not liked in Facebook games. I'll play some more and form fuller impressions soon.