As amazing as it seems, quite a few businesses are built solely around sales through online auction sites. Even established brick-and-mortar shops are extending their reach by using online auctions, and judging by the amount of traffic on sites such as eBay, millions of buyers and sellers consider eBay to be not just a business but a source of entertainment as well. I admit I've succumbed to the lure of online auctions—buying and selling camera equipment on eBay to feed my Pentax habit.

As I started to accumulate more camera equipment, I found that I needed to resell some of the stuff I was acquiring. Often, an item I wanted to buy was part of a package of equipment that included items I didn't really want but that I could resell later. Eventually I'd end up with a dozen or so items to resell. I discovered that eBay's built-in tools for managing multiple auctions leave a lot to be desired, so I began looking at the plethora of auction-management tools available.

I finally selected Envision Software's AuctionTamer as my auction-management tool. I chose AuctionTamer because it's free for auction buyers to use and has a 14-day trial of its seller features. After using the application for a week, I paid for the full retail version (I'm a strong believer in supporting shareware authors).

AuctionTamer is simple to configure and use. The program stores (locally) all your passwords and user IDs for the auction sites it supports. If you use eBay, you know that many locations prompt you for a username and password before you get the information you need. AuctionTamer automatically fills out those on-screen forms for you.

The tabbed browser interface lets you easily switch back and forth between auction sites, and the custom browser puts all the auctions you're watching, auctions you're running, and items you've bid on in an easy-to-understand interface. When you first open an auction, click the Add Item button, which places the auction on the interface. The information in the auction updates automatically; you don't have to visit each site to see how you're doing (see Figure 1).

AuctionTamer helps buyers organize their interests across various auction sites. It even has a built-in sniping feature that lets you place that last-second bid to win an auction, instead of using one of the online sniping services (although AuctionTamer supports them too). I have a full-time Internet connection, so I often use this sniping feature; it has helped me be the successful bidder in many auctions I might not have won, and it bids for me when I can't be near the computer.

AuctionTamer also helps automate the posting of auctions. Even if you post auctions manually, you can still manage your online auctions through the product's interface. The program tracks all your bidders and generates automatic emails to your auction winners—complete with automatically calculated total prices based on data you enter. AuctionTamer even automates the feedback process for your completed auctions.

The interface supports quite a bit of customization. You can add columns as standard items for data entry, put data in memo fields for each auction, and create custom-tabbed interfaces to Web sites.

AuctionTamer's only drawback is that although the program uses Internet Explorer (IE) as its browser engine, it kills the history feature that IE uses to add data to forms. I like the ability to double-click a field in a form and have IE pop up the selectable list of entries that I've entered in the past. I often search for the same items on auction sites, so I really miss this feature.

The unavailability of the history feature doesn't stop me from recommending AuctionTamer. The price is reasonable ($49.95), the feature set is very useful, and registered users get free updates. The download is free, and it's definitely worth a look if your business or entertainment plans include spending time on eBay or other auction sites.