Fix Photoshop CS3 missing scratch disk problem in OS X

  • June 7th, 2008

Yesterday I was in a state of panic. Adobe’s Photoshop CS3 was crapping on me at the most unexpected and inopportune time. The Photoshop icon would do its dance in the dock a few times, load the splash screen, then scream for attention with an error reading:

Could not initialize Photoshop because the disk is not available

"Disk is not available"?! Not only was Photoshop sidelined, Illustrator was out of service as well. The two applications seem to sing the same note when it comes to not working as expected.

Not the best feeling in the world. The initial reaction was "is there something wrong with my hardrive?" Naturally, the first thing to do is to launch Disk Utility to verify & repair permissions. The second step is to restart the computer with the original install DVD to verify the disk. In my case, both steps reported no issues.

What disk is Photoshop trying to initialize?

The "disk" that Photoshop initializes on startup is the scratch disk – otherwise known as virtual memory. Think of it as the applications reserves / backup for processing your giant layers. Without it, the application will fail to function properly.

Photoshops inability to initialize the scratch disk can be caused by any number of reasons including: operating system updates, hardware re-configurations, or in my case sheer luck. One morning it’s working, the subsequent afternoon it’s not.

What won’t fix the problem #1

One of the finer features of OS X is the simplicity of uninstalling applications. For the most part, removing applications means dragging icons directly into the trash can (and removing a folder or file from /Library/Application Support). Adobe products are a whole ‘nother beast with multiple folders and nested items installed here and there. Even if you use Adobe’s included Creative Suite uninstaller, remnants of Adobe are still buried on your hardrive.

I used the Creative Suite uninstaller, repaired permissions, then restarted and re-installed CS3. The "failed to initialize" disk error persisted. FAIL.

What won’t fix the problem #2

I tried again. This time, I ran the the uninstaller then manually searched out any folder or file [left behind] that shared any association with Adobe. Once completed, I repaired permissions and restarted before re-installed the CS3. Same result – failed to initialize the disk. FAIL.

Damaged hidden Photoshop preference?

I was irritated beyond belief. Photoshop failed to initialize the disk under my own user account, but functioned properly under any other user accounts I created and tested. I was very much against flattening my hardrive just for Adobe. Re-formatting is generally reserved for a toasted developed environment or serious OS issues.

What will fix the problem #1

A complete reformat will definitely do the trick. Flatten your disk, re-install OS X, then re-install your Adobe products. 3-4 hours later, you’ll be up and running like nothing ever happened. Personally, I prefer something that doesn’t require me sitting through a boring installation and relocating GB’s of data from a backup to a clean install.

What will fix the problem #2

Although this option does require a little more shuffling, it works and will save you hours of time waiting for an OS installation and backup transferring. Note that the directions will differ for pre-Leopard users (see this KB Article).

  • Backup your hardrive – use SuperDuper or CCC.
  • Ensure that you have the root account enabled.
  • Log-out of your current account and log-in as root.
  • Open System Preferences > Accounts and delete your main user account (Photoshop FAIL).
  • 10.5 offers the option to save the User folder as 1) a disk image, 2) retain on the the hardrive under Users, or 3) remove completely. Select to keep the folder locally.
  • Open the Finder and navigate to the Users folder. Open the folder and you will notice your previous Home directory appended with the word "deleted".
  • Rename the directory – removing the word "deleted".
  • Return to System Preferences > Accounts and create a new Administrator account with a shortname which matches your previous (remember you removed the word "deleted").
  • OS X will notify you that a folder with the same name already exists and prompt you asking if you want to keep the existing. Select to keep.
  • Log-out as root and back in as your original account and Photoshop should work as it should.

Visit the original Adobe Forums thread for more info. A headache, but definitely more convenient then having to wipe the disk clean for an OS re-install.

Related Adobe note. I have the Adobe CS3 Master Collection installed on an iMac. All of the Adobe tools at my finger tips – quite convenient. All is well until the Adobe Updater launches notifying me of a new Illustrator 11.0.3 update. The updater successfully downloads the update, but fails to complete the install recommending that I uninstall and then re-install the entire Master Suite. Um, no thanks. Your update can’t be that important Adobe. Who wants to wait 1+ hrs. for a re-install when the suite functions as expected? Why can’t expensive software just work?