CNBC's website is reporting that Steve Jobs, Apple's heroic CEO, is taking a six-month leave of absence to deal with his declining health. It is the best thing for Jobs. And for Apple.

Jobs has battled pancreatic cancer and its aftereffects since October 2003; he has been dodging questions and offering misinformation about his health for almost as long. Those questions came to a boil last summer when he showed up at an Apple event looking rail-thin and unhealthy. Apple spokeswoman Katie Cotton, in a lie that Jobs himself later disavowed, attributed his appearance to a "common bug."

Apple and Jobs have continued to dissemble about his health, we have now learned. In December, the company announced Jobs would not appear at Macworld, Apple spokespeople claimed it was due to a disinterest in trade shows in general, not a problem with Jobs's ability to deliver a two-hour keynote speech.

Gizmodo, a gadget blog, reported that Jobs's health was the real reason for his no-show, a claim most other outlets hastened to blow down, citing a vaguely worded nondenial from Apple: "If Steve or the board decides that Steve is no longer capable of doing his job as CEO of Apple, I am sure they will let you know," spokesman Steve Dowling said in mid-December, giving no hint that his boss would announce exactly that less than a month later.

Jobs, the day before the January Macworld event, where a marketing VP would fill in for him, revealed in a letter posted on Apple's website that his doctors had found a hormonal imbalance that was making him lose weight, and said that he chose to tend to his health and spend time with his family rather than prepare for the Macworld event. He also said he expected to be better by the spring.

That has been revealed as a lie, or at the least a misapprehension, since Jobs is now taking a medical leave through June. Here's what he wrote to employees:

I am sure all of you saw my letter last week sharing something very personal with the Apple community. Unfortunately, the curiosity over my personal health continues to be a distraction not only for me and my family, but everyone else at Apple as well. In addition, during the past week I have learned that my health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought.
In order to take myself out of the limelight and focus on my health, and to allow everyone at Apple to focus on delivering extraordinary products, I have decided to take a medical leave of absence until the end of June.
I have asked Tim Cook to be responsible for Apple’s day to day operations, and I know he and the rest of the executive management team will do a great job. As CEO, I plan to remain involved in major strategic decisions while I am out. Our board of directors fully supports this plan.
I look forward to seeing all of you this summer.

He might as not well return after June, for his health and for Apple's. As much as he claims that he wants to remove the "distraction" from Apple, by leaving things so unresolved, he guarantees it will remain as a cloud over Apple's Cupertino headquarters. Cook, Apple's COO and heir apparent, will be granted the right to make day-to-day decisions — but not to make any "major strategic decisions" on his own.

Apple needs to prove it can thrive without Jobs. And Jobs, for the sake of his family and friends if not Apple's investors, must show he can thrive without Apple. It will be a hard decision to make. And it will require far more honesty, with himself and with the rest of the world, than Jobs has demonstrated.